CYBERSPACE—There was little new revealed at the teleconference held by AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF) this morning, which followed up on an earlier in-person press conference on the steps of the Van Nuys City Hall, but still, some of the lies and misinformation spread during the phone call are worth reporting and commenting on.
Perhaps the most important point for the adult industry, aside from the announcement that AHF had apparently collected more than enough signatures to put its mandatory-condom initiative on the ballot in June, was the claim by AHF president Michael Weinstein that if city clerks, doing a random check of petition signatures, find that the initative has qualified for the June ballot, that enacting an ordinance needn't wait for voter approval.
"At that point [after the signatures have been checked], the city council will have 20 days to enact the ordinance as is, or else it will go to the June ballot," Weinstein said. "We're very confident of victory in the election. Certainly, we think it is primarily the responsibility of the city council to enact this measure, and we hope that their consciences will be pricked and they will do the right thing and do that, but we're perfectly prepared to move forward.... We will be making an announcement shortly about actions we're going to take to move the agenda along at the county level as well.
"One of the most fascinating things in the signature collection process was that we had a very easy time getting these signatures," Weinstein also claimed. "They cut across all lines: Democrats and Republicans, men and women, older people and younger people, all races—everyone understood that this was an issue of worker protection and it was an issue of fairness, and it was not an issue about whether you were for or against porn, and it wasn't an issue about whether you liked or didn't like discussing sex in a public forum, anything of that nature. It really came down to the fairness and worker protection issue, which means that the people of Los Angeles are really ahead of the politicians who are so worried that somebody's going to say that they're in favor of porn."
Of course, if one's signature gatherers also downplay the proposed ordinance's effect on the adult industry, and lie about how many HIV cases there have been as a result of adult filming, as AVN previously reported, there's little doubt that Weinstein's right about how easy the signature gathering process was... if not about why LA residents signed the petitions in the first place.
Weinstein then introduced his "go to" guys for mandatory condoms (now that Shelley Lubben's lies have been exposed), HIV-positive former performers Derrick Burts and Darren James, each of whom spoke for a few minutes.
Burts, who "works alongside the AIDS Healthcare Foundation" and claimed to have been infected with chalymdia, herpes, gonorrhea and HIV after performing in adult movies (straight and gay) for just four months, opined, "I think it's very safe and fair to say that in this industry as a worker, when you're not wearing barrier protections, the likelihood of you getting an STD is extremely high."
Perhaps more interesting was Burts' claim that, "One thing I always point out time and time again, is that testing is not enough because there's too big of a time frame where we can go out and have sex with someone in the general public—you know, a lot of performers, female performers go out and have sex in the general public—male performers as well—and we go back to work on a porn set and we can easily spread that before testing again."
Burts should know: much of the adult industry has already seen his ad on the internet soliciting work as a gay escort, and it remains an open question whether he contracted his HIV (or any of his STDs) on adult sets or through his escorting work.
Darren James, who reportedly did contract his HIV infection by having sex in South America with a person who was not an adult performer, was equally adamant about the alleged dangers facing tested adult performers in California.
"People are going to buy porn regardless," James argued. "The fans that I've seen on the street, they could care less. They just want to see performers. If that means that a guy can't use a condom, you get a better actor that can use a condom... It's gonna sell. Don't believe all the directors talking about—they try to use every kind of scapegoat they can to get out of it, but it all comes down to the same thing: You gotta stick by the condom. The condom is the only way because just testing—that's what I thought: Just getting a test was saving me. And look at me now: I'm HIV-positive. The tests don't mean nothing; it's after the fact."
It's certainly understandable that James might be feeling guilty for having had sex without a condom with an untested woman, then bringing that infection onto the porn set where he was working—but his claim that people will continue to buy porn even if it goes all-condom is belied by, for example, Christian Mann, whose company, Video Team, suffered enormous losses in sales, and eventually declared bankruptcy, after he instituted a condom-only policy. And as for "you get a better actor who can use a condom," perhaps he's forgotten how difficult it is to engage in sex in front of a camera for 90 minutes or two hours at a time even without a condom.
AHF's in-house counsel, Brian Chase, spoke next, comparing the proposal that FilmLA get a condom-only guarantee from adult producers before issuing shooting permits to the extra precautions used for mainstream stunt work.
"Everyone knows that when you go the city to get a permit, that permit comes with some conditions," Chase stated. "If a mainstream film studio wants to get a film permit and there's going to be pyrotechnics, then they have to have safety measures; they have to have the fire department involved. When you get a construction permit for your house, that means you've got to follow all the rules regarding workplace safety for construction workers. It's the exact same thing in the adult film industry. We have regulations saying that when workers might be exposed to the threat of disease, they have to be protected with barrier protection. In the context of adult films, that means condoms. This is a law that already exists, but this industry seems to believe that it's above the law, that it can just ignore the law and get away with it. It can't, and we're going to continue to do whatever we can, including going to the voters, to put pressure on this industry to start protecting its workers."
But in fact, AHF's proposed ordinance would put FilmLA, a body whose sole purpose is to issue filming permits in Los Angeles, in the position of being the "health police," a job for which it is hardly equipped, and which is apparently not mandated in the agency's charter. It's likely that such condom policing would fall either to the Los Angeles Department of Public Health, which has already declined the "condom policeman" role, or the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal OSHA), which has already sent inspectors to several adult filming sets and has already issued fines for violations it claimed it found there—a role it will continue to play in the future, no matter what ordinance may be enacted.
During the Q&A which followed the speakers' presentations, Weinstein claimed that "based on [AHF's] calculations," it would only cost adult producers $85 extra for a condom-only filming permit, and that while AHF would appreciate public donations to the cause, "we're prepared financially to do what it takes to fund it. We have not seen much funding coming on the other side to oppose this, so it's hard to say right now how expensive a campaign this might be, but based on how the industry reacts in public, we can only hope that they behave in the fashion that they have previously, because that will only help our campaign."
Free Speech Coalition executive director Diane Duke issued the following statement in response to AHF's petition:
"FSC is opposed to mandatory condom regulation. History has shown us that regulating sexual behavior between consenting adults does not work. The best way to prevent the transmission of HIV and other STIs is by providing quality information and sexual health services. If condoms were mandatory, existing testing protocols would likely disappear. The protocols that are in place are here to protect the performers and successfully do so."
That point was driven home, ironically, by Weinstein himself, who stated that although there is a market for children performing in sexually explicit conduct (child pornography), there are laws against production of such material, "but the fact that the audience can't have that doesn't mean they don't consume porn, so I would think about this in a similar fashion."
Indeed; millions of people do look at child porn, but they do so through shadowy websites whose URLs are closely guarded secrets, passed from one child porn fan to another—and Weinstein is undoubtedly correct that people who want to see condomless porn will find it one way or another, and those who wish to fill that need will likely begin producing adult films without filming permits, in secret, and possibly with untested talent... thus increasing the likelihood of transmission of STDs.
Also on hand was Mark Roy McGrath, a "public health policy consultant" for AHF who had previously worked under Dr. Peter Kerndt of the Los Angeles Department of Public Health.
"One in four adult film workers will be infected within a year, and one in four adult film workers will be reinfected within one year," McGrath omnisciently predicted. "When compared to other at-risk groups—that is, other groups who have a significant risk for contracting a sexually transmitted infection—adult film performers as a group are significantly higher than any other group within Los Angeles County. CalOSHA has documented workplace transmission and exposure of HIV; there continues to be documented cases of HIV exposure. The industry continues to have repeated shutdowns. With regard to the number of HIV cases, that's not quite as clear, but we do know that in the case of the 2004 case exposure, there were three infections of HIV. We know that in 2010 there was one case of HIV, and we know that the citizens pick up the tab for this, and that the lifetime cost for HIV care alone is $600,000."
Of course, the ideas that "CalOSHA has documented workplace transmission and exposure of HIV"; that "there continues to be documented cases of HIV exposure"; and that "the industry continues to have repeated shutdowns" are less than truthful, since the alleged "HIV case" which occurred in Florida in August, and which AHF ballyhooed as being proof that its claims were correct, was found not to be an HIV infection thanks to industry-approved testing. (One wonders if McGrath has informed the CalOSHA Standards Board that the August case was a false positive, since that organization's September 23 newsletter seems to indicate that McGrath had told them that the performer was HIV-positive.)
Weinstein closed the teleconference by claiming that "basically, there's no industry that I'm aware of that has flauted the laws so flagrantly, has come out and said on television and radio and in the newspaper that they have no intention of following the law, so I mean, this happens to be an outlaw industry that is willing to risk these type of sanctions."
"I hope that in the coverage that ensues around this and as we go forward, that the city council people—Eric Garcetti is the president of the city council; he's running for mayor; you have the chair of the committee with jurisdiction over this, which is Alarcon—I would like to see those people be asked where they stand on this issue, but they've ducked it and they've been able to duck it because nobody has pigeonholed them and said where do you stand," Weinstein continued. "But now that this is on its way to the ballot, they're not going to be really able to avoid this issue. And I think the public at the state and local level continues to wonder why they're paying legislators and city council people to do a job when they wind up having to resolve most of the tough issues."
And as Weinstein reminded the teleconference attendees early in the call, AHF has millions of dollars to push his mandatory-condom agenda forward, so perhaps it's time for leading industry producers and distributors to step up and help Free Speech Coalition fight this industry-killing encroachment on porn's sexual and First Amendment rights.