L.A. pushes for condoms in porn legislation, but state lawmakers balk
By Malcolm Maclachlan | 06/23/09 12:00 AM PST
The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors is hoping that a recent outbreak of HIV cases allegedly linked to the adult entertainment industry will help them find a sponsor for a bill to mandate condom use in adult films.
The mandatory condoms-in-porn bill has been part of the Board’s legislative agenda since late last year. So far, 19 legislators have turned them down, according to Los Angeles County’s chief lobbyist, Dan Wall.
But most of those rejections came before an active adult film actress tested positive for HIV on June 6. The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health (DPH) is investigating several other cases of current and former performers who have also tested positive.
“We are still in the game, but the odds are long because it’s late in the session and this bill is emotionally and politically charged,” Wall said.
A spokesman for the industry called any talk of a mandatory condom bill “premature.”
“All indications are that the industry regulations are working,” said Ignacio Hernandez, lobbyist for the Free Speech Coalition. “This single incident is still under investigation to see what, if anything, went wrong. We would hope that no one would move forward with sweeping legislation until we know all the facts. We have a five-year track record of no incidents.”
The mandatory use of condoms has been criticized by many within the adult industry, who say consumers do not want them because they interfere with the “fantasy” aspect of the entertainment. One outspoken critic of requiring condom use has been Hustler publisher Larry Flynt, prompting the OC Weekly to ask recently in a healdline what do the Pope and Larry Flynt “have in common?”
The industry currently operates without any specific regulations, only a set of voluntary guidelines that calls for performers to be tested for HIV every 30 days. Groups calling for condom use on sets, such at the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, have criticized this standard because it doesn’t take into account the gestation period between when HIV is acquired and when it shows up on a test.
According to the Los Angeles Times, the most recent actress to test positive took her test on June 4, performed for a film on June 5, then received her positive test result on June 6. Consistent condom use, advocates have argued, is necessary because of such lags. However, according to the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, which has been working with L.A. County seeking a bill sponsor, condoms are only used 17 percent of the time in adult films.
The L.A. Board of Supervisors originally approved a resolution to seek legislation last October, and made it part of their official state legislative agenda in December. Any statue would be a workplace safety regulation policed by the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal-OSHA).
In fact, Cal-OSHA already has a regulation on blood-borne pathogens in the workplace, according to Rand Martin, a lobbyist for the AIDS Healthcare Foundation with the firm of Rose & Kindel. That regulation, however, mainly governs the medical industry. Certain “clarifications” would be needed in law to regulate HIV protection in the adult industry.
“We’re calling for a worker protection objective here, not a change of what is on the screen,” Martin said.
Last week Cal-OSHA raided the clinic where the positive HIV test was recorded. The Adult Industry Medical Association is the main provider testing adult performers. According to the LA Times, the state is seeking information about as many as 18 other current or former adult performers who have come up HIV positive since 2004. AIM also maintains a database of performers’ HIV status, and a quarantine list if anyone is known to have worked with an infected performer.
Some in the industry have contested whether these people were current performers-something which can be difficult to track. According to the AIDS Healthcare Foundation literature, “there are approximately 1200-1500 Californians who are employed as performers, but the roll call of performers is constantly shifting. Most (especially female performers) will appear in very few movies before ending their adult film career. As a result, the number of performers who are engaged in any given year is much greater.”
This constant turnover in performers and in companies-which constantly change names and pop in and out of existence, Martin said-can make the industry hard to track.
In 2004, there was a clear outbreak, involving several connected cases. That incident shut down the industry for a month. Since then, 22 other cases have been reported. About half are among men who work in gay films, while the rest are both men and women working in heterosexual porn.
The Los Angeles Department of Public Health has been critical of industry testing and reporting. A spokeswoman with the agency declined to comment on their investigation except to point to a June 19 letter to the County Board of Supervisors. It stated that AIM has reported 24 HIV cases since 2004: “AIM has claimed that none of these individuals are adult film performers. To date, we have been unable to verify this claim because of a lack of cooperation by AIM.” AIM has not returned a call seeking comment as of press time.
The Free Speech Coalition’s Hernandez said that anytime there is talk of an HIV incident, it gives ammunition to groups who have already been pushing for condoms in adult films. But this latest report, he said, isn’t likely to change anything.
“Anytime something is in the newspapers, and it’s getting a lot of attention down there, it’s a chance for groups to go for what they already wanted,” Hernandez said. “If legislators weren’t convinced there was a need in January or February, I’m not convinced that the information that is out right now would be enough to change someone’s mind.”
The AIDS Healthcare Foundation’s Martin said he did not take seriously the idea that the adult industry would leave for another state, such as Nevada, if condom regulations went into effect.
“They’re too well entrenched in California,” Martin said. “They have too accommodating a government, too accomodating a society to move out of state. The San Fernando Valley is the heart of adult film industry,” he added, noting they are “treated like normal businesses” there.
The advent of digital technology, Martin added, could make the issue of condoms moot. It is possible to quickly and easily take any visual indication of the condom out of the film or image before sale, Martin said.
”The condom is digitally removed,” Martin said. “We’ve actually talked about taking a visual example to the committee when we present the bill.”
Martin quickly added, “I’m joking.”