WEST LOS ANGELES—Approximately 30 UCLA law school students, professors and others attended the fifth panel on "Condom Use in the Adult Film Industry" sponsored by the university's Reproductive Health Interest Group (RHIG) and a new player on the scene, Law Students for Reproductive Justice, some of whose goals are "to gain contraceptive coverage in student health insurance; transform local policies to advance reproductive justice for marginalized populations in their communities; [and] increase access to emergency contraception." The meeting took place beginning at 11:30 a.m. in Room 1347 of the UCLA Law School, and lasted about 90 minutes.
On today's panel, which originally had been planned to include only attorneys, were veteran adult industry advocate Paul Cambria; Bob McCulloch, who had represented HIV-positive performer Darren James in a lawsuit against AIM back in 2004-5; and Mark Roy McGrath, a healthcare professional formerly affiliated with RHIG and currently "consulting" with AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF). McGrath replaced AHF attorney Brian Chase, whose schedule had changed so as not to permit his attendance. The panel was moderated by Adam Carl Cohen, past co-president of RHIG.
McGrath began the discussion by giving a summary of his own involvement in the health community as well as some of the history of the condom controversy that has plagued the adult industry for the past two years, including his part in AHF's petition drive to require FilmLA, the city's film permitting agency, to require adult producers seeking permits to agree only to shoot sex scenes with condoms, and to pay an $85 fee per permit to fund inspectors to visit sets to make sure that condoms were in fact being used.
"I believe the production of [adult movies] is quite public," McGrath said, "and when somebody puts workers in a situation in a legal industry, that legality has responsibilities, and we feel that the industry has not adequately addressed health and safety issues, and we feel that government has not adequately addressed these, and so we have launched several broad, multijurisdictional advocacy campaigns, and these measures have been quite effective."
Cambria spoke next, and began by stating that, "At first blush, this campaign seems to be a good one, and you would say, 'What could be wrong with that? They're on the side of the angels. They are trying to prevent people from becoming sick and perhaps dying; how could you argue against that?' Well, that's at first blush ... but when you walk into the issue, several things are going on."
Cambria continued by noting that the "responsible studios" in the adult industry had a testing program in place, and that, "statistically, the incidence of HIV in the adult industry was far less than what it would be in the general population." He noted that the L.A. Department of Public Health's statistics on STD among performers was "flawed," and noted the difference between requiring construction workers in Los Angeles to wear helmets and similar safety gear and requiring condoms of adult performers who make movies in the city is, "In the adult world, not every adult movie is produced in Los Angeles; they are produced in all countries across the world, and these countries cannot be controlled either by the city of Los Angeles or OSHA, and so they will produce movies without condoms and send them into this market."
It was a topic to which Cambria returned several times, using that fact to buttress his argument that, "Here is the reality of it, and the people who are proponents of this legislation don't get it, that this is the reality of it. I represent a number of major studios. They are moving out of Los Angeles to produce these movies, period. So here's what happens: If you want to protect the actors and actresses? And right now, you had a system with testing, and you had very few incidents of HIV over many, many years. Well, once they move to Mexico, Europe, Canada or one of the other states and have no protections whatsoever in the filming, and they'll do the filming because the people who are in the business like it, they like being in the business, some need the money, some have problems, and they'll be involved, and they will be making these movies and they'll be making them in a place where there are no rules and there's no protection."
Cambria noted that during the various Cal/OSHA meetings, the industry had proposed that testing be increased and made more comprehensive, and couple that with "at most, condoms for anal sex."
"This could be some kind of a workable alternative as opposed to them [studios] moving out," he argued, adding later that he had already fielded calls from at least six major studios which planned to leave the city (and possibly the county if AHF's new petition becomes law).
"I can tell you, some have already decided they're going to Europe and they're going to take a troupe of actors over there and make 10 movies at one time and then they're going to come back and distribute them, and they'll have no protections over there," he predicted. "Or they're going to go to Mexico and do the same thing, so that's what's happening."
He also predicted that some in the industry would file a lawsuit to overturn the newly passed ordinance, while others would simply go underground, thus giving performers "zero protections."
"If your whole goal is to protect actors and actresses, come up with something reasonable, workable as opposed to something that's simply going to drive them out of the market, period—and it's not a threat; it's already happened," he concluded.
McCulloch, a medical malpractice attorney, spoke next. He noted that he represented Darren James in regard to the HIV outbreak James caused in 2004, and claimed that "various efforts were made [by the industry] to contact my client, turn him, promise him things so the statute of limitations would run so he wouldn't sue."
McCulloch made several claims that were either false or only partly true, including that testing is "the gold standard—it's fool's gold"; that testing is "not a strategy of prevention as a public health matter, it's a strategy of containment."
"They know that the system's going to fail; it's going to fail; it has to fail," McCulloch claimed, "because there are going to be people like my guy who went in, got tested, showed up for work and by the time he actually showed up positive, he had sex with 13 individual actresses; three of those individuals contracted HIV. ... They were never able to determine where he got that, but he had come from a shoot out of country where they don't have those rules in terms of the same standards." McCulloch glossed over the fact that James didn't contract the disease from an American actress, but rather from having unprotected sex with an untested foreign performer (or possibly an untested "civilian"; that's never been made clear even after all these years).
"Back then, in 2004, basically until this [condom] law was passed, cockroaches on the film set of Mimic, Guillermo del Toro's science-fiction horror movie, had more rights and more protection than human beings on a similarly situated film set for an adult movie," McCulloch contended. "The cockroaches had to have cockroach wranglers to make sure they weren't worked to hard; they had to make sure they weren't worked too hard; they had to make sure they were fed appropriately and they weren't subjected to any kind of dangerous situations that would put their cockroach lives at risk, because that would be animal cruelty. So cockroaches in the city of Los Angeles had more rights than adult industry performers. We knew that when they're making these films, it's just a matter of time before some of these individuals are going to come up HIV; there's no way around it."
Of course, McCulloch failed to note that there has not been a single case of HIV transmission within the straight California adult acting community since his client spread the disease in 2004. He also erroneously contended that California is the only state where adult movies can legally be made. In fact, courts in both New Hampshire and New York City have legalized such filmmaking.
McCulloch painted the industry as callous and uncaring about the health of its performers, claiming that, "What the industry always says is, 'Gosh, you know, Bob, those three, four people that have HIV, you know, the gold standard test that didn't work for them? Casualties of the industry, you know; people go down.' Or the several people since that time that are HIV, 'Well, you know, the gold standard worked pretty darn good.' 'So, what about those workers?' 'Well, you know, risk of doing business.'"
"The way the industry is set up right now is to basically use the powers of a multibillion-dollar industry to squelch the rights of these individuals who don't have the ability to have lawyers represent them," he falsely asserted.
McCulloch continued on in that vein for several more minutes, maintaining that performers are "employees" under Cal/OSHA's standards, and implying that Dr. Sharon Mitchell was unqualified for her job as head of AIM.
Once McCulloch was done, Cambria proceeded to tear apart several of McCulloch's claims, which led to the pair interrupting each other in an attempt to either put the lie to some claims or to defend them. However, Cambria did manage to make the point that if there were some way to force a "world condom [-mandatory] law" on the entire world, the adult industry would have no problem with that, noting that "nobody wants people to get sick and die." He also predicted that within two years, if the condom ordinance is upheld, "80 percent of talent will be in other countries."
McGrath managed to jump in to dismiss Dr. Lawrence Mayer's study of the L.A. health department's claims regarding STD rates in the industry as "bullshit," and derided performers (like veteran actress Nina Hartley) who had claimed that prolonged condom use caused micro-abrasions in the vagina that made them more susceptible to sexually transmitted infections. He also speculated that once the work of the L.A. City Council committee currently trying to figure out how to implement the new ordinance is completed, he expected that a group of nurses would become the "condom police."
There was approximately a half-hour devoted to questions from the audience, and Free Speech Coalition executive director Diane Duke asked why football players and "ultimate fighters," both of whom suffer multiple bloodlettings during their games, don't have laws regulating their sports similar to the condom law just passed, but no one really had an answer for that, although Cambria suggested that perhaps the participants could simply be encased in "giant condom bubbles."
Perhaps the high point of the Q&A was McCulloch, after being interrupted by Cambria while trying to read the preamble of the condom ordinance to the law students in the audience, claiming, "That's exactly what the industry does: They bring in their shills to come into public meetings and talk—the industry—I've been to every one—that's what they do."
During the final summaries which Cohen asked each participant to give, McCulloch stated that since the average "life" of an adult performer is just 10 months, "To ask them to go up against the industry that's employing them and make a complaint, I mean, forget it; that's not going to happen"—and then promptly admitted that several in the industry had made complaints.
Of course, even after 90 minutes, none of the issues facing the adult industry were resolved, but it seems likely that some at the university will keep scheduling these discussions, and if they do, AVN will continue to report on them.
UPDATE: Panel organizer Adam Carl Cohen writes, regarding Law Students for Reproductive Justice: "You mentioned they were new to the panels, but they have actually been part of the events since the first one I organized. I have always included them as co-organizers because I believe the issue is just as much a public issue as it is a legal issue."