NL- If anyone mentioned or involved in this story wants to tell their side of thingsj, please email it to me at [email protected] and I will post it.
Op/Ed by Michael Whiteacre
Why we fight
On June 18, 2010, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), responding to a complaint from AHF, opened an investigation into AIM Healthcare, the clinic that served porn performers and maintained the centralized testing database used to verify performers were available for work under the industry’s self-enforced protocols.
Free Speech Coalition’s Diane Duke, quoted in XBIZ, was incredulous at AHF’s action: “The fact that AHF wants to take this tool away demonstrates that [its] concern for people who work in our industry is insincere and proves that Weinstein is doing nothing more than supporting his personal agenda. How can any legitimate AIDS group oppose testing?”
The question was rhetorical, but an answer lay right under everyone’s nose: because in the eyes of AIDS profiteers like Michael Weinstein, testing is only a means to an end.
Weinstein is one of the most successful drug dealers on the planet. To him the only purpose of testing is to identify as quickly (and as inexpensively) as possible as many potential AHF pharmacy clients as they can, so that AHF can sell them costly AIDS drugs. That’s why AHF uses cheap, fast ELISA-based rapid tests at its testing centers. To AHF, a positive HIV diagnosis is really just phase one of marketing: identify the consumer.
Why didn’t Weinstein simply offer to take over and improve industry testing?
Tim Tritch answered that in an email to this author, “as one who knows EXACTLY how much money there is in the adult industry testing, and I mean I know EXACTLY, to the penny, how much money is involved, I guarantee you, it isn’t that profitable.”
Also according to Tritch (as “Joe Know” on LukeIsBack.com): “AIM receives about 1.1 million a year from talent for their tests, of which about 65% goes directly to pay the labs that run the tests … then they have rent, employees, workers comp ins, and everything else it takes to run a business (electric, water, phone, office supplies, etc)…”
The bottom line is, Weinstein is a businessman who only pushes what is profitable to him, and AHF doesn’t make real money from testing; it makes it from selling AIDS drugs in its pharmacies.
Another assault on AIM
AHF had been soliciting for plaintiffs to sue AIM since at least February 2010, and its search eventually bore fruit: on June 28, 2010, AHF announced that disgruntled former performers Diana Grandmason (aka Desi Foxx) and her daughter, Bess Garren (aka Elli Fioxx) would be filing a lawsuit against AIM alleging privacy breaches and seeking class action status for similarly situated parties — and that AHF’s in-house lawyers would be representing them pro bono.
The lawsuit alleged, “AIM violates the privacy rights of performers in the adult film industry by allowing the producers of adult films online access to workers’ health care information without the individual consents and releases required by federal and California law. AIM knowingly and intentionally provides this private information to producers of adult films in order to facilitate the production of adult films.”
“AIM further jeopardizes the health and well-being of performers in the adult film industry by discouraging the use of condoms and other safer-sex practices known to prevent and dramatically reduce the spread of STDs….The actions of AIM violate Grandmason’s and Garren’s rights to privacy, the rights of individuals similarly situated to Plaintiffs, and further constitute an unfair and deceptive trade practice under California law.”
AIM’s attorney Jeffrey Douglas was quick to point out that all adult movie performers sign waivers agreeing their data can be seen by anyone who makes or distributes their films. “Just being in one movie means, odds are, your ID and personal information is in the hands of dozens of entities,” he said. “The choice is [that of] the performer. Not AIM.”
Under the Health Information Patient Protection Act (or HIPPA), it is illegal disclose a patient’s confidential medical information unless the patient allows this information to be disclosed. However, if these performers signed a release (as all performers did at AIM), these claims in the AHF/Grandmason suit against AIM were baseless.
The claims were also predicated upon the notion, propounded by AHF, that AIM was an arm or production and thus, itself, a kind of employer. That concept (since soundly rejected by the courts) formed the rationale for Cal-OSHA storming into AIM’s offices and demanding records to which it had no right (and then brow-beating AIM clients in the waiting area and on the street in search of “information”).
Then, on July 14, HHS determined that it did not have authority to investigate AHF’s complaint regarding AIM, and closed the matter.
In the adult industry, a false sense of relief settled in. Adult producers, and the trade group Free Speech Coalition (FSC), believed that Cal-OSHA was interested in using the issues raised by AHF as an opportunity to create new, “industry-appropriate” regulations for the adult industry. The existing regulations were actually written for health clinics in the 1990s, and were haphazardly applied to the adult industry in reactionary fashion following an HIV outbreak years earlier – without ANY consultation of the industry being regulated. This was literally unheard-of, but since Cal-OSHA had never expressed any interest in enforcement prior to AHF’s complaints, no one had pressed the issue.
With the hope of new, fair, industry-appropriate regulations in mind, FSC refrained from making a public spectacle of the meetings in the Cal/OSHA process; it didn’t fight fire with fire; and it didn’t stage outlandish protests or media spectacles
But in fact, the adult industry was walking into an ambush.
On October 25, 2010, at the Cal/OSHA Advisory Meeting in Oakland, it became painfully clear that, with the at least implicit approval of the OSHA representatives, AHF seemed to not only be driving, but gaming the process. In addition, the openly (and somewhat militantly) gay leaders of the OSHA team looked and acted palpably put-off by having to deal with discussions of heterosexual, or hetero-friendly on-camera sex.
Following the meeting in Oakland, AHF’s Whitney Engeran-Cordova wrote Weinstein, “This is a war of attrition….” and he was right.
After hearing Whitney’s account of the meeting, Weinstein replied, “It really sounds like a great day – a coup. The hearing combined with the LA Times editorial was really a blow to their solar plexus….”
“The next thing would be a ‘Safer Sex Initiative’ in the city of Los Angeles.”
The next month, in response to a comment I left on an LA Weekly blog post by Dennis Romero, AHF’s in-house “AIDS Advocate” Miki Jackson tipped AHF’s hand:
“[T]here are ways to have the industry basically pay for it’s [sic] own enforcement through fees, restaurants have to … and so should the Adult Industry. It’s just that the big shots and elected officials – from State to local – won’t go after the Industry – they are all scared of it. We’ve gone to them and been refused and stonewalled. The Cal-OSHA folks are great, but they need the support of our chicken elected officials to really put teeth in this.”
What AHF refused to acknowledge publicly is that companies driven out of business — or out of state — don’t pay taxes and fees to fund California programs. This is reminiscent of the problem that anti-smoking groups ran into: when you seek to fund a medical program through a cigarette tax, you cannot then go and work to stamp out smoking — fewer smokers means less fees paid into the program. A successful program or regulatory regime of the kind they hypothesize requires thriving businesses to fund it.
It would be naïve to assume that a strategist such as Michael Weinstein is not aware of this reality.
Enter the Rentboy
I’ve already written extensively about the case of Derrick Burts, the admitted active Craiglist escort and bareback bi-swinger who also shot a few “hetero” porn scenes and a lot of gay scenes in a brief porn 2010 porn career during which time he was also a counselor at a Christian youth camp. Burts later took out an ad on the gay hook-up site rentboy.com, but claimed he never actually had sex with anyone from that site.
Burts also speculated, at an AHF-hosted press conference in December 2010 at which he outed himself as porn’s HIV-infected “Patient Zeta,” that he contracted HIV during a gay porn shoot in Florida (in a scene where a condom was used for penetration). The subject of his criminal record, however, was not revealed at the press conference. Neither was his escorting and his moonlighting at the Christian camp.
Now, thanks to the AHF email leaks, we know a little bit more about Burts and AHF. Not surprisingly, it was AHF that facilitated communications between Burts and Cal/OSHA’s Deborah Gold. In December, shortly after the press conference, Cal-OSHA’s Gold contacted AHF’s Brian Chase in a very friendly email which included her work and cell phone numbers, seeking to interview Burts about the shoots he booked, in order to “ensure that appropriate measures are being taken to protect employee health in these workplaces. We’d also like to learn more about what happened in Florida.”
Burts apparently filed several complaints against mainstream “straight” porn producers who had hired him for condom-less scenes, resulting in thousands of dollars of fines.
There was no reckoning for Burts, however, who returned from shoots in Florida in early October, and shot a gay sex scene with model Christian Mohr after allowing his AIM test to lapse by four days – because since the gay side of the industry does not universally require testing, on the October 6th shoot, the issue never came up.
In the media, Burts concealed his background, and AHF presented him as their new clean-cut Poster Boy for porn industry victimhood: a mostly straight young man in a committed relationship with a beautiful blonde California girl who was lured to his doom by evil greedy pornographers.
Burts embodied AHF’s self-serving parable, and the media, reflecting societal biases about the porn industry perpetuated by the Shelley Lubbens of this world, was happy to eat it up without investigation.
But Lubben herself was nowhere to be found in AHF’s press materials around the time of Burts’ day in the sun. That’s because, quite simply, Burts was intended to be Lubben 2.0 – someone more like the boys at AHF, who not only wasn’t judgmental of gays but had actually had lots and lots of gay sex.
Better yet, unlike Lubben with her claims of herpes cured by God, Burts was a bona fide “victim” – and he had the HIV test to prove it.
A key element of the Burts parable was the personification of AIM Healthcare as the evil porn industry incarnate. Burts and AHF laid the blame squarely on AIM’s shoulders. AIM had failed Burts, the story went, just as it will continue to fail performers if it is allowed to continue to exist.
Almost immediately, however, the cracks in Burts’ contrived story began to show. The revelation of the Rentboy ad had already undermined his public image enough that his public appearances were scaled back and AHF reluctantly had to make room at the table for Lubben again. Burts quietly backed out of an appearance at a UCLA panel that, in the absence of another AHF-friendly voice, ultimately turned into the Shelley Lubben show.
AHF knew that such turns of events were only “set-backs” if they were acknowledged as such, so it issued no retractions and marched full speed ahead.
AHF was not through with AIM Healthcare yet. Not by a long shot.
To be continued…