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March 08, 2019

Op-Ed: The Horseshit About AHF's Measure B Never Seems to Stop

LOS ANGELES—For reasons that remain unclear, an email showed up Thursday afternoon in an AVN mailbox from a company called ResearchGate titled "The full-text you requested has been uploaded." Now, we didn't recall having requested the "full-text" of anything, but when we opened it, what should appear but a June 2017 article by three AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF) employees and affiliates titled, "Advocacy Coalition for Safer Sex in the Adult Film Industry: The Case of Los Angeles County’s Measure B." The article, by Adam Carl Cohen, an AHF employee; Dr. Paula Tavrow, an affiliate of UCLA's pro-mandatory condom Reproductive Health Interest Group (RHIG), which AHF largely controlled; and Mark Roy McGrath, who's listed as an "independent researcher" but who was (and possibly still is) an RHIG member and also an AHF employee, purports to trace the development of AHF's only successful attempt to legislate condoms and other "protective measures" onto the adult film industry (AFI)—and as with much of what AHF has written and said on this subject, there are plenty of misstatements of fact and even a few outright lies, beginning with the first sentence in the "Background" section: "Performers in the adult film industry are routinely exposed to bloodborne pathogens." If the authors of this article had spent even minimal time researching the adult industry, they would have discovered that for the past several years—and most assuredly in 2017—the industry has used the Performer Availability Screening Services (PASS) system and its similar predecessor APHSS, where performers, in order to work on adult video productions, must undergo a battery of tests for the most common sexually transmitted infections (STIs), and if even one test is positive, that performer is barred from performing and is given treatment to clear the infection. Such infections are rare, so the phrase "routinely exposed" is mere hyperbole on the authors' part. But the primary purpose of this article seems to be to justify AHF's meddling in the adult video industry's business, and contains plenty of self-congratulatory phrases such as, "advocates decided to adopt a long-term strategy that would begin at the local level and gradually grow—starting with a city ballot measure, then a county ballot measure, and finish at the state level. This step-by-step strategy entailed considerable time and expense, but the advocacy coalition recognized that taking the issue directly to the voters might be more likely to succeed than efforts to persuade legislators to take up the bill. Also, AHF was willing to commit major financial resources (about $1 million) and staff to the campaign because promoting condoms in the AFI would raise public awareness of the importance of safer sex." First, let's recall that this "advocacy coalition" was largely AHF and its employees and a couple of academic affiliates like Tavrow, as well as anti-porn groups like the late Shelly Lubben's Pink Cross Foundation and the very few adult performers who became HIV-positive, all except one of whose infections did not occur when they were filming adult content. And the statement that AHF threw "about $1 million" at this chimera is a gross understatement; between the billboards AHF put up, the public meetings it called, the handouts it had printed, the newspaper ads, the commercials it produced, its nationwide "Condom Nation Tour," and much more, $1 million was likely just a drop in the bucket—and that doesn't even consider the shitload of cash AHF later dropped on its failed Prop 60 campaign. (That's wasteful spending for which AHF president Michael Weinstein has still not been properly called to account by his own board of directors.) And then there are the factual obfuscations, such as, "In 2004, four performers contracted HIV on set, revealing the deficiencies of testing only." Of course, anyone familiar with that 2004 HIV infection knows that it occurred when adult performer testing was still in its infancy, and was being performed by basically one organization, the Adult Industry Medical (AIM) Healthcare Foundation (which Weinstein later helped drive out of business). As it happened, one performer, Darren James, had worked in South America and tested immediately upon his return, when the HIV virus he'd contracted down there was still in its incubation period and undetectable by the tests used at that time. James went on to infect three actresses, which led to an industry-wide shutdown and requirements that all performers be tested. Since then, no performer on a PASS-compliant porn set has contracted or spread HIV. Not one. In 15 years. So when this report states, "Unlike Hollywood actors whose exploits are simulated, adult film performers often engage in real, prolonged sexual encounters with multiple partners without condoms. As a result, performers regularly acquire sexually transmitted infections (STIs), including HIV," that's a lie, pure and simple. HIV infection was non-existent among the tested population working during the period the studies on which this article relies were conducted. (And let's not forget, when pharmaceutical company Gilead Sciences released its HIV-preventative drug Truvada, Weinstein dismissed it as a "party drug.") But the other main purpose of this paper seems to be to convince healthcare professionals that AHF's methods in getting Measure B on the county ballot and getting it passed should be a guidebook for other entities that wish to accomplish some similar purpose. First, a bit of background. As everyone who was in the adult industry between 2009 and 2012 is aware, AIDS Healthcare Foundation waged a war on the adult industry by, among other things, petitioning the California Office of Occupational Safety & Health (CalOSHA) to order all porn sets to use condoms; staging protest marches outside AIM headquarters and the Hustler Hollywood store on Sunset Blvd.; filing CalOSHA complaints against 16 adult studios for not using condoms in their productions; holding several mandatory condom "Strategy Symposia on Adult Film Performer Safety" at UCLA; filing complaints against nine licensed adult talent agents for allegedly putting their talent at risk on sets with no condoms; petitioning the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to investigate AIM for allegedly violating patient confidentiality laws; providing free legal services to two former actresses suing AIM for allegedly violating their medical privacy (after they'd signed releases allowing AIM to do so); convincing FilmLA to refuse shooting permits to adult studios unless they promised to use condoms in all sex scenes; seeking to prevent AIM from obtaining a "community clinic" operating permit so it could keep providing testing for the industry, and forcing AIM to close briefly while its permit was in dispute; convinced two state representatives to introduce mandatory condom laws; and finally (at least during this time period), writing a county ballot measure, later designated as "Measure B," to force all studios to use condoms and paying signature gatherers tens if not hundreds of thousands of dollars to collect signatures for it to put it on the November, 2012 ballot. But in fact, Measure B was not simply about forced condom use; as attorney Allan Gelbard pointed out in an article for AVN.com in October of 2012, and this author a month later, Measure B would also require performers to use latex gloves, dental dams, goggles and face masks for "protection" during sex scenes. Such a requirement would have spelled the death of the adult content industry. As the Cohen/Tavrow/McGrath article rightly points out, when AHF began its forced condom campaign, it didn't get much traction with government agencies or the legislature in large part because "Legislators refused to author the bill because they did not want to be associated with pornography" and "considered authoring an AFI bill to be 'political suicide.'" Other considerations which the article conveniently leaves out include the First Amendment rights of filmmakers to present their vision as they saw fit—i.e., without condoms—and the fact that despite AHF claims to the contrary, it would be financially and technically impossible to film condom sex scenes and then digitally remove the condoms during editing. The article also contains a table allegedly detailing AHF's Measure B polling results from March, 2012, breaking down how Los Angeles County voters allegedly felt about Measure B—but for some reason, the table doesn't include anything about the text of the measure itself, other than asking responders, "Are you aware of the measure?" The idea that the general public was aware of the text of Measure B and its full meaning before it came to a vote is ludicrous; there is little doubt that the vast majority of the 1,046 responders to AHF's poll had no idea what Measure B actually said—and that is just as likely true of the vast majority of the county's voting population when they went to the polls. The authors of this article also attempt to smear opposition to Measure B by comparing those opponents to the tobacco industry's attempts to prevent cigarette advertising from being banned. "A range of tactics have been documented in the tobacco industry to undermine public health efforts, such as commissioning research and analysis that casts doubt on scientific findings, championing 'individuals' rights to make own choices' and take their own health risks, opposing restrictions based on 'freedom of speech,' and depicting regulatory policies as government overreach that will cost jobs and waste taxpayer dollars. The AFI employed many of these tactics against Measure B," the authors claim. The main problem with that "logic," of course, is that cigarette smoking does lead to lung cancer and other ailments including death; having sex without a condom, in the overwhelming majority of cases, doesn't; not even close. But thanks to the millions of dollars AHF spent on promoting Measure B in the mainstream media, the adult industry was wildly outspent and couldn't get the message of Measure B's actual requirements before the voting public. Or as the article puts it, under the section "Lessons Learned," "Although the AFI potentially had deeper pockets, its coalition lacked financial backing, cohesion, and nimbleness." (That's one of the best arguments we know of to support Free Speech Coalition today.) And yet, later in that same section, the authors claim that, "With a nonprofit organization like AHF at the helm, the 'Yes on B' effort had sufficient money and 'mobilizable troops' (AHF staff and volunteers) to outspend the opposition." So what's the real story here? Did the adult industry just not commit enough time, money and personnel to the fight, or did AHF just outspend it? Even so, the measure's passage by just 57 percent of the electorate is more indicative of their lack of understanding of the measure rather than actual support of it. And, of course, as far as Cohen, Tavrow and McGrath are concerned, Measure B was/is a success—despite the fact that as a result of Vivid Entertainment and two performers suing to prevent its enforcement, a federal judge "[upheld] the constitutionality of mandatory condoms while curbing Los Angeles County’s ability to enforce the law." Even to today, the LA County Board of Health has been unable to come up with any workable method of enforcing Measure B. And then there's the article's statement that, "While it is too early to evaluate Measure B’s effect on HIV/STI transmission, at least four adult film producers announced a switch to condom-only productions, and 11 studios obtained health permits under the new law." In fact, since the advent of Measure B, just one adult producer, Wicked Pictures and its affiliates, currently uses condoms for sex scenes—and no one uses the other Measure B requirements: latex gloves, dental dams, face masks or goggles. Even in their "Conclusion," Cohen, Tavrow and McGrath manage to take a few swipes at the adult industry, claiming, "Corporate malfeasance and profit motive can undermine worker safety. Public health advocacy may be necessary to bolster efforts of regulatory agencies like Cal/OSHA. Voters’ general inclination to favor fair treatment of workers can be a powerful force that may be insufficiently recognized. For the AFI, while hurdles remain to achieving safer workplaces, passage of Measure B was an important step forward." That would be the Measure B that currently is not being enforced and likely never will be. SUCCESS! The article under discussion can be found here.

 
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