Suing Porn Stars Will Not Lead to Less HIV

Prop 60 is the latest gambit by Michael Weinstein.
Prop 60 is the latest gambit by Michael Weinstein.

On November 8, Californians will vote on Proposition 60, a ballot initiative that would appear to require condoms in all adult films shot in California. Unfortunately, the measure is not what it seems.

Most voters are unfamiliar with the industry and its workers, so the initiative appears to be an easy victory for progressivism — a one-two punch wherein the porn industry becomes a conduit for safer-sex messaging, while allegedly increasing workplace protection for the performers. But Prop. 60 is anything but progressive. It jeopardizes personal privacy and weakens workplace safety for adult film workers by empowering any resident of California to sue adult film performers — even a married couple producing content from their own home.

Prop. 60 is the latest gambit by Michael Weinstein, the controversial founder of AIDS Healthcare Foundation. Many may remember Weinstein and AHF for misleading campaigns against PrEP, sex-shaming billboards, and hyperbolic attacks on Grindr, Tinder, and Viagra. But Prop. 60, his fourth attempt to impose new laws on the adult film industry in California, may be the most misguided campaign yet.

Weinstein says he’s targeting “greedy pornographers,” but when it comes to Prop. 60, his most vocal opponents have been the performers themselves. That’s because, under Prop. 60, anyone who produces, sells, or profits from adult films — a group that now includes the majority of performers — will be subject to lawsuits and fines if a condom isn’t visible.

You see, in today’s adult film industry, the majority of performers are also producers. In addition to shooting for studios, most porn stars regularly create their own content — either for their own websites, on webcams, or in partnership with studios. Performers also regularly promote their own scenes — on Twitter or Tumblr, for instance — in exchange for a share of the sales. Under Prop. 60, anyone in California who doesn’t see condoms in an adult film can sue a performer personally and receive a portion of any fine imposed.

As an outspoken member of the LGBTQ community and an HIV activist, I see something frightening in Prop. 60. Imagine stalkers, overzealous fans, angry family members, and LGBTQ hate groups being able to obtain legal names and home addresses of people who are open about their sexuality and gender identity. Performers already face daily privacy invasions, harassment, and discrimination — a law giving a digital mob incentives to patrol sexual behavior should raise flags with all LGBTQ people everywhere.

This is one of the reasons why the list of those opposing Prop. 60 includes LGBTQ stalwarts like Equality California, AIDS Project Los Angeles, the Los Angeles LGBT Center, the Transgender Law Center, and the San Francisco AIDS Foundation. Not to mention both the California Democratic and Republican parties.

Those who remember when Michael Weinstein called PrEP a "party drug" know that AHF is not a friend of sexual freedom and science; the proposition removes the control over safer-sex practices from the performers themselves and places it in the hands of any resident of California. As a longtime HIV activist, I can tell you that an effective approach to HIV prevention is not and has never been one-size-fits-all. Criminalizing sexual behavior only worsens health outcomes.

The most effective way of preventing transmission is to empower those who may be at risk to choose solutions that fit their needs, and that includes all options in the prevention toolbox as well as greater control over the end product being shot. Taking away reproductive and sexual rights will only force this already marginalized population into the shadows where work is more dangerous.

This is something that gay men may know implicitly. Those of us who lived through the epidemic, who lost friends and watched other struggle with HIV, know that moralizing, shaming, and stigma only made things worse. As a community, we’re still dealing with the after-effects of three decades of homophobia, sexphobia, AIDS-phobia, and HIV criminalization.

Unfortunately, we’re seeing these forces rise again in relation to adult performers. Weinstein has called the adult performers “a public health crisis” and stoked fears that they are bringing sexually transmitted infections, including HIV, into the larger population. There’s no evidence to support that — in fact, adult performers are possibly the most regularly tested population on earth, and there hasn’t been an on-set HIV transmission in the regulated adult industry since 2004. But why should AHF let facts get in the way?

Many in the industry have long speculated that the true focus of Prop. 60 is not about performers but those watching the videos at home. Given Weinstein’s public statements — and his willingness to ally himself with fringe antiporn figures — I wouldn’t be surprised. But porn is not a substitute for sex education, any more than The Fast and the Furious is a replacement for driver’s ed, and it’s incredibly irresponsible to sacrifice performer safety for a morals campaign.

What Prop. 60 threatens to do is not only demonize but destabilize — to push production underground and out of state, to make performers vulnerable to harassment and lawsuits, to take away control over their own bodies.

The proponents of Prop. 60 like to frame this as a battle between performers and producers, despite the fact that this is one battle where the two are firmly aligned against Weinstein. The Adult Performer Advocacy Committee, the leading performer rights organization, was one of the first to oppose the measure. The committee repeatedly demanded to meet with Weinstein, only to be met with silence.

Rather than address performer concerns or develop legislation that performers and groups like the performer advocacy organization could support, Weinstein has repeatedly attacked and dismissed them. Weinstein has filed complaints through the Occupational Safety and Health Administration against performers who have spoken out against him, and claimed repeatedly that only his organization — not the performers themselves — speaks for performers. He’s even gone so far as to falsely list a performers’ organization as a supporter of the proposition in an official voters’ guide. (The organization complained, and Weinstein was forced to withdraw the listing.)

Despite the safeguards of the current system, we can and should always work to improve safety for adult performers. But to do it effectively, you need to involve the performers themselves, to listen to their concerns, to give options and build a system that works from the bottom up.

Prop. 60 does not do any of those things, and I hope that come November, California voters will join me in defeating this noxious, dangerous measure. Vote no on Proposition 60.

(RELATED: AHF's Michael Weinstein Has a New Fight and It's Not About HIV)

Eric Paul Leuex100
ERIC PAUL LEUE is the executive director of the Free Speech Coalition. To find out more, visit DontHarassCa.com, or follow us at @FreeSpeechArmy.com.

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