HOLLYWOOD, Calif.—During an hour-long press conference Wednesday morning at the Hollywood, California offices of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF), Derrick Burts, the adult industry performer who outed himself Tuesday as Patient Zeta, spoke for 45 minutes about his experiences in the industry leading up to the day in October when he first learned from the AIM Healthcare Foundation that he was infected with the HIV virus. During his talk, in which he came out strongly for mandatory condom use and spoke in harsh terms about the treatment he received from AIM, the 24-year-old, who performed in both gay scenes as Cameron Reid and straight as Derek Chambers, broke down twice.
Burts said that he had only been in the industry since June, having joined the OC Modeling talent agency, which he said promised him a better life, thousands of dollars a shoot and a glamorous life full of parties and other perks.
"I bought into it," he said, saying that the agency said he had money written all over him. Despite the fact that he was straight, he said the agency suggested he also do gay porn, that he looked right for it. He also said the agency told him that his new life would be full of glamorous parties.
Burts decided to make the plunge into porn, he said, not least because he thought it would be a safe environment due to safety precautions used by members of the industry. He made a point of saying that he thought it would be safer than normal life, where millions of people are probably walking around HIV positive and don't know it.
After beginning performing, he said his life did begin to change, but not for the better.
"Yes, the money was great, but money doesn't buy you happiness," he said.
There were lots of parties and red carpet events, too, he said, but they weren't what he expected. He characterized the parties as "nuts," and said they included lots of drug use, orgies and out of control behavior. He said he wasn't particularly into that lifestyle.
"I was doing it for the money," he said, adding that most of the other performers he knows are in it for the same reason.
By the end of his first month of shooting, he said, he had contracted three STDs—chlamydia, gonorrhea and herpes—and was thinking twice about remaining in the industry.
Burts claims he told his agency about his concerns and that they told him that everyone in the business contracts STDs, that they are manageable with the proper medication and that now that he had contracted them he might as well continue.
He decided to continue performing, he said, and in September he made the decision to start shooting gay porn. His agency, he said, got him in touch with a gay studio in Florida where, he added, most gay porn is shot.
People on chat boards had been saying he shot gay scenes before his straight scenes, Burts stated, but he denied it, saying that he only shot four or five gay scenes in total.
Reliable sources have informed AVN that Burts has run an ad to be a gay escort, an image of which can be found here.
It was at about this time that his world turned upside down, he said, when he got a call from Jennifer Miller of AIM, asking him to come into the office. He had been getting tested every month without fail, he said, had tested negative Sept. 3 and then had gone in again Oct. 8, a Friday, for his regular monthly testing. Miller called him about his results the next day.
He asked if he could go in Monday and she said no, that it was urgent. He could tell from her voice that she was upset, he said, and so he traveled the 20 minutes from his home to AIM, where he was told the news that he had tested positive for HIV.
"This is when it all started," he said. At first, he felt as though he had just received a death sentence and had maybe 6 or 7 years of life left, but Miller put him at ease, telling him that it wasn't a death sentence, and began the follow-up testing, investigation and quarantine process that kicks in when a performer tests positive for HIV, including, Burts said, a Western Blot test.
He said he was also told that the clinic's physician, Dr. Aaron Aronow, would call him about further follow-up treatment. That call took place, said Burts, but it was brief and he had no subsequent conversation with Aronow, who told him he was lucky in that he caught the virus early.
Miller, he added, promised him that AIM would help get him care. He went home and began to do his own research, looking for information and doctors that specialize in HIV, and stumbled upon the AIDS Healthcare Foundation. When he asked AIM about AHF, he said that Miller became "panicked" and told him not to speak with them, telling him they wanted to bring the industry down.
In late October, the results of his second-stage tests came back, as did those for his girlfriend, another performer who had also been tested at AIM; both had tested negative. It was during that meeting, he said, that he was told by Miller that a performer he had had sex with was a "known positive," meaning a performer known to be HIV-positive. Burts said he thought he knew who the performer was and asked Miller, but was told that it was confidential information. He also stated that Miller told him that there was another adult industry performer unrelated to this case that had tested positive during a different shoot, but was not told who that person was, either. So far, there have been no reports of such a case on the straight side of the industry, and AVN is currently attempting to verify that assertion.
Burts made clear that he believed he contracted the virus during the Florida shoot, which he said he did for a Bang Bros. gay site, even though condoms were used. He said he may have gotten it during oral sex or during the cum shot, when the condom was removed and his partner came on his back. When pressed on that point later by a reporter, he said he believed he had been infected during the shoot but was not positive. He said it could also have happened during a straight shoot.
It should be noted that searches of several adult movie databases have revealed no titles of movies in which Burts has appeared, gay or straight, although a YouTube video containing an interview with Burts apparently after a scene he did for Jet Set Productions can be found here. Generally speaking, however, it is unusual that a performer who has supposedly been making adult movies for approximately six months not to have a single title listed in the Internet Adult Film Database or on retail sites like Adult DVD Empire or Excalibur Films.
Burts then spoke about the period following his last meeting at AIM, when the tests came back negative for him and his girlfriend. He said he waited a month and half to hear from AIM about follow-up treatment, and never did. He said he called AIM approximately five times—all of which he said resulted in hang-ups—and emailed and texted the clinic several times during that period, with no response. He also never got his actual test results in written form, as he was promised.
It was at that point that he said he started to have a nervous breakdown, and started to cry as he spoke about the emotional toll the situation was taking on him. He had not told his family, he said, and had not gone to the press, either, at the alleged urging of AIM.
"I felt neglected," he said. "They [AIM] didn't care about me."
It was when he read that AIM issued a statement saying that Patient Zeta had contracted the virus in his personal life that he really got mad. It wasn't true, he insisted, because he had only had sex with his girlfriend outside the industry and she had tested negative.
With no place to turn, he called the agent in Florida who had booked his gay shoots, Howard from FabScout, who told him that he had every reason to be scared and that he would help him immediately. Howard, said Burts, put him in contact with Norm Kent, a Florida attorney, whose offices were right next to the Florida offices of AIDS Healthcare. He said that Kent then went into AHF and set up an appointment for Burts with a doctor at the AHF offices in Los Angeles.
He met with a Dr. Laveeza Bhatti at AHF, who he said finally provided him with the attention he had needed, and it was then that he realized that he had to speak out. He said that while he was in the office with the AHF doctor, he tried calling AIM, presumably to retrieve his test results, and claimed that he was kept on hold forever and then hung up on five times by AIM staff when he tried to call back.
"I said, 'Hi, my name's Derrick, the Patient Zero; may I please speak with Jennifer?'" Burts later detailed. "They said, 'Yeah, she's in. One moment.' They put me on hold and they basically hung up on me. I called back probably about five more times on speakerphone and they continued to hang up on me."
In a press release sent to the media late this afternoon, Miller denied several of Burts' allegations.
"Despite Patient Zeta's self-identification and sharing of information regarding HIV status and test results and the HIV status of a person identified as a girlfriend, AIM is bound by California and Federal statutes to protect the medical privacy of patients and AIM remains committed to providing screening and testing services to performers as well as our civilian population while maintaining medical privacy," Miller stated in the release. "AIM's statements made to the media and every report to the California Department of Public Health were based upon the information provided by Patient Zeta to AIM. As part of AIM's standard protocols, Patient Zeta was offered counseling, documentation of test results, and information and direction regarding resources and treatment. Any statements made by Patient Zeta which portray AIM as not providing appropriate and proper services are not truthful and are self-serving."
"AIDS Healthcare Foundation has a history of aggressive and hostile actions against AIM," Miller's statement continued, "and the most distressing aspect of this situation is that Patient Zeta is simply being manipulated for AHF's own purposes and in furtherance of their agenda."
It was only after meeting with Dr. Bhatti, Burts added, that he was finally able to call his family. He also posted on Facebook about his ordeal, he said, and was overwhelmed by the number of posts in response by people expressing their support who were also HIV positive. He broke down again during this part of this exposition.
"There needs to be a better system in place," he said. "There needs to be more done. There's a lack of education in the industry."
He mentioned "big shots" like Steven Hirsch and Larry Flynt, who have millions, and wondered why they didn't do more to protect performers, and then mentioned Wicked as a successful company that is condom only, saying that many of the female performers he knows love to shoot for Wicked because of the policy.
When asked by a reporter whether he thinks condoms for oral sex should also be mandatory, he said he did not see why not. AHF president Michael Weinstein, who was seated next to Burts, said, however, that he did not think it was necessary to make dental dams mandatory, and that a regime of condom use and testing should be sufficient, even if 100 percent protection was not possible despite even those safeguards.
Weinstein added that AHF was not out to destroy the adult entertainment industry, but that it should now be "crystal clear" to the industry that it is currently against the law to make adult films without condoms.
"The County Health Department has the authority to act," he said, "but they haven't. Everyone has ducked for cover."
Later, during a telephone conference with reporters, Burts went into greater detail regarding how he thought he had contracted the disease.
"One thing people have to understand, it's not confirmed that I did get it from a gay shoot," Burts said during the phone conference. "There's no knowing. When I asked Jennifer about the known positive, she wouldn't tell me if it was a male or female; she wouldn't release the gender or the name just for confidential reasons. I have no problem saying this: I personally can't verify it, but I personally think maybe it did come from a gay shoot, and even though it was condom use in the scene, there's another rumor going around that I did a bareback scene. No, my agency would never book me a bareback scene; I'm totally against bareback, especially in gay porn, so I wouldn't have partaked [sic] in a bareback scene in gay porn, so there's speculation that, 'Well, you got it and there was condom use and you know, why are we trying to push condoms in straight porn?' The fact is, condoms helps reduce the risk of getting HIV and STDs. The chances of getting STDs in straight porn is very, very high; a lot of performers get it. Condoms help reduce the chance of getting these things, and just like testing, even though it's not required, should be required, just as condoms is already passed as required; it's something that's not being followed.
"You have to remember, when you do a shoot, whether it's straight or gay, there's other aspects to the shoot, even on the gay side, whether it's condom use, which is the oral part where there's no condoms," he continued. "Also, when you do a shoot, there's always the cum shot, and gay porn, straight porn, the cum shot is without a condom, and you know, when that comes in contact with your body and you wipe it off with a rag, it can come in contact with your sensitive areas, your genitalia. The particular shoot where I think I may have contracted it was with Bang Bros. Productions in Florida, Venetian Productions, for one of their gay companies. When they did the cum shot, they pulled the condom off and the performer pretty much did the shot on my back rear end, and when that wiped off, I could have come in contact with that. So there's no knowing exactly where I got it, and like I said, condoms doesn't stop you from getting it, but like I said, it helps reduce the risk severely, and that's what's important."
In other words, in order to have made Burts completely safe during the scene he described, there could have been no ejaculate touching Burts' body in any way—a scenario that not even Cal/OSHA, much less AIDS Healthcare, has advocated—and condoms would be required for blowjobs, which only a small number of the medical experts consulted by Cal/OSHA have recommended.
(Photo, l-r: AHF attorney Brian Chase, Dr. Bhatti, Burts, AHF president Michael Weinstein)