LOS ANGELES—A collection of academics, healthcare workers and representatives of non-profit organizations spent Friday afternoon at UCLA's School of Public Health trying to figure out the best way to foist mandatory condom use onto the adult industry. And, of course, virtually no one who actually works in adult movie production was invited to attend.
The gathering was labeled a Strategy Symposium on Adult Film Performer Safety, and was apparently created by Dr. Paula Tavrow of UCLA's Bixby Program in Population and Reproductive Health. Among those invited to attend were several officers of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF), an organization that has been leading the push for mandatory condoms in adult; Dr. Robert Kim-Farley, director of the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health's Communicable Disease Control and Prevention Program; Dr. Peter Kerndt, co-author of an error-filled 2007 report, "The Adult Film Industry: Time To Regulate," which supported mandatory condom usage in the industry; former adult performer Darren James, who was forced to retire after becoming HIV-positive in 2004; and Protecting Adult Welfare (PAW) founder Bill Margold, who memorably testified to the Meese Commission, "Just leave us [the industry] alone and we‘ll destroy ourselves."
Specifically not invited were anyone from AIM Healthcare Foundation (although an invitation was reportedly extended to Naomi Akers of St. James Infirmary, which performs STI testing for San Francisco's sex-worker population), anyone from Free Speech Coalition or any currently working adult performers—Nina Hartley had asked to attend and was rejected—and no press were allowed to cover the symposium, although this author specifically requested to do so.
The purpose of the symposium, according to its invitation, was to begin writing legislation that would "1) Reduce occupational exposure to infectious diseases in the production of adult films by requiring mandatory use of condoms and other prevention methods, employer-paid medical monitoring and worker education; 2) Improve the ability of local health departments and Cal/OSHA to investigate and control occupational exposures to infectious diseases and enforce workplace regulations in a timely manner; and 3) Enable existing Cal/OSHA and other occupational standards to be vigorously enforced to reduce occupational exposure to infectious diseases within the adult film industry."
AVN.com readers will remember, however, that U.S. District Judge Winifred Y. Smith recently ruled that Cal/OSHA had overstepped its authority in demanding that AIM disclose private medical information about "Patient Zero," an adult performer who became HIV-positive in June while on a hiatus from the industry, and further ordered Cal/OSHA to stop attempting to browbeat any other performers, their families, friends and roommates into revealing the performers' personal medical histories. Judge Smith further questioned whether Cal/OSHA in fact had any authority over adult performers at all, since they are considered to be independent contractors, or over AIM's provision of STI testing, since AIM does not employ adult performers for any purpose.
Moreover, other healthcare professionals have questioned whether Cal/OSHA's existing regulations regarding the handling of blood-borne pathogens, which were derived from a study of hospital operating room procedures, are even applicable to the video recording of adults engaged in hardcore sexual conduct.
Also not under consideration were any of the First Amendment implications of forcing adult performers to deliver their message while wearing condoms.
"We promote the concept of state legislation to be able to strengthen and protect workers' health in the adult film industry through the use of required condom use, through screening that is paid for by the industry, through corporate education and training of workers, to the ability also to insure that the vaccinations that may be needed are also paid for by the industry, that there's appropriate monitoring and surveillance of the industry," said Dr. Kim-Farley at a press conference held just prior to the beginning of the symposium. "We feel very much that just like a construction worker would not go into a construction site without a hard hat, an adult industry performer should not be performing high-risk sex acts without a condom."
"They [adult producers] seem to think that people won't buy their products, which is belied by the facts," added Whitney Engeran-Cordova, director of AHF's Public Health Division. "The gay film industry has had a self-imposed condom usage policy for some time now, and there doesn't seem to be any lack of gay porn. And they say they'll leave, that they'll lose jobs here, and that is just belied by the facts. When the smoking ban went in place, if you remember, bars and restaurants said, 'We're going to go out of business; people aren't going to come; they aren't going to drink their beer.' Well, they come and they drink the beer and it's okay."
However, when several adult companies adopted condom-only policies after an HIV outbreak in 1998, before the creation of AIM and its testing protocols, they found that sales plummeted, since many viewers felt that the appearance of condoms in a sex scene decreased its erotic entertainment value.
Several adult industry attorneys such as Free Speech board chair Jeffrey Douglas have bristled at attempts to compare First Amendment-protected activity such as film-making with non-communicative acts such as cigarette smoking, but it was apparently not the purpose of Friday's symposium to delve into such important questions.
"The Adult Industry Medical group is fundraising around keeping people unsafe, and I think that's shameful," said Engeran-Cordova, who takes the position that regular STI testing is insufficiently effective to prevent infections. "And they're raising money to try to keep people unsafe, and to try to fight off efforts to put legislation in place, and I think that's unfortunate that they don’t care enough about their workers to see that they are protected. So there was a question about cases; so since 2004, there are 2,396 cases of chlamydia, 1,389 cases of gonorrhea, and basically, when the Department of Public Health analyzed the 2008 data, infections in the adult film industry were 20 percent higher than the general public, so I think—I really think that we need to not listen to folks who are not interested in protecting those who get paid to have sex, and then have people pay for that. And if they have no interest in protecting them, then we'll have to do it for them."
Engeran-Cordova was apparently referring in part to the "Belladonna & Kimberly Kane's Winter Wonderland" fundraiser for AIM Healthcare, which will be held on Saturday night at Busby's East, located at 5364 Wilshire Blvd. in Los Angeles.
The statistics cited by Engeran-Cordova and by Cristina Rodriguez-Hart, chair of the Adult Film Industry Subcommittee of UCLA's Reproductive Health Interest Group (RHIG), have been debunked by AIM's Dr. Sharon Mitchell, who noted that while AIM is required to report all positive tests for sexually transmitted infections (STIs) to the Department of Public Health, it is not uncommon for performers who are infected to have several positive tests from a single original infection, and that the Health Department does not distinguish between a test indicating an original infection and follow-up tests which register positive for that same infection.
When asked about that discrepency, Engeran-Cordova sidestepped the question, saying, "It's fascinating that you bring that up because I just think you're not really looking at what's happened, and what's happening is, people are actually getting infected more than once. So the fact is, that there may be more than one episode of somebody having an STD in any one given year and I just think your facts are incorrect."
However, Engeran-Cordova might want to correct his own "facts," since articles from the Los Angeles Times which AHF supplied for the symposium's press kit, as well as the RHIG's own "Fact Sheet," contain several figures alleged to be totals of adult performers infected with various STIs, which the LA County Department of Public Health later had to retract as being inaccurate.
Also present at the press conference was Darren James, who noted that his infection with the HIV virus was "the most traumatic experience of my life. It just turned it upside down." He explained that he had been fired from several mainstream jobs since 2004, some because he was HIV-positive and others simply because he had performed in adult movies.
"So I guess I'm just going to keep doing what I need to do, which is probably help whatever actors want to listen, whatever people want to get involved, and I'm glad they got me involved in their program," James told news media present at the press conference. "This is really great, to get the opportunity to talk, and if I could do one thing to help people, this is great, this is what I want to do."
James claimed that while many actors support condom use, they fear that if they speak out on the issue, "they'll get cut, the work will get cut. It's really hard for them to come out and speak. They'll tell me on the side, but they can't come forward or they will be out of work, it's that deep."
He also charged that while some studios, notably Vivid, claim to support condom use, "they forget to encourage it. You rarely see a bowl of condoms sitting out there on a shoot." Vivid owner Steven Hirsch has frequently reaffirmed his company's condom-optional policy, noting however that he believes that the AIM testing protocols are highly effective.
"If we didn't think the proper testing was in place, we would do something about it," Hirsch told an Associated Press reporter on Aug. 20.