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February 11, 2016

AHF Uses Nevada HIV+ Case to Push Its California Agenda

LOS ANGELES—At 1:30 this afternoon, AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF) held a press conference to allege that, based on a recent report from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the adult industry had lied about the facts regarding an HIV infection that allegedly occurred on a gay movie set in Nevada. AHF used the report as a platform to accuse the industry, and specifically the Free Speech Coalition, of having lied about the incident, and to reiterate its long-standing (and well-debunked) claim that other performers had become HIV-positive (HIV+) on adult sets during the 10-year period following the last documented HIV exposure, caused when performer Darren James returned from an overseas shoot and began working in the U.S. without having been tested for the virus. "What makes it [the CDC report] particularly important is that the industry has been making claims of the fact that there have been no on-set infections, and we've been asked to rely on their word on that rather than the word of health authorities," said AHF president Michael Weinstein at the press conference, which was available to hear by conference call. "So now, in addition to having the Los Angeles Department of Public Health having weighed in about on-site infection for HIV, having had the Department of Public Health for California weighed in, we now have the CDC weighing in. I might also add, in addition to this case in 2014, there have been others, and those are disputed by the industry, and there may not be any definitive way scientifically of proving it, but those cases have been under invesigation, and we believe that they were, based on the evidence, on-site infections. "So the last thing I'd like to say is that the big lie is used—meaning [when] you repeat the same lie over and over again and then it becomes fact has been a historically successful propaganda technique, so the idea that there haven't been infections on set is a lie," he added. "The fact that this previous documented case that was documented by California which has now been confirmed by the CDC that it didn't—they didn't use the testing system set up by the industry, that's a lie, and we believe that them saying that all these other performers who became positive while working in the industry were not infected on the set is also a lie." Weinstein then introduced HIV+ former performer Sofia Delgado—who promptly hedged her agreement with Weinstein's statement. "For me personally, I don't know my source of contraction," she admitted, "so to hear them say there was no on-set contraction, I don't know that, so for me, it's very good to hear that finally something is being done." In fact, AHF has promoted the stories of several performers who became HIV+ while working in the adult industry, including Cameron Bay, Rod Daily, Derrick Burts and others, and in every case, thanks to comprehensive testing of the on-set partners of those performers, it has been proved that no on-set transmission occurred in those cases. Weinstein then noted that the CalOSHA Standards Board, on February 18, would be taking up the question of the proposed addition of a new section to the California Health Code which would specifically target adult industry practices, the most onerous of which would be to require that condoms and other "barrier protections" such as goggles and dental dams be used during sexually explicit acts. "I know there's going to be a mobilization within the industry to try to divert them from voting on that, and we will have a group of performers there to testify in favor of the rule," Weinstein warned. "Also to say that there will be an initiative on the ballot this coming November on condoms in porn on statewide basis, and in addition to that, there will be a hearing on all the initiatives that will go before voters sometime this spring, so there will be a hearing specifically on the 'condoms in porn' initiative." Weinstein then introduced Adam Cohen, who began working for AHF as a "Public Health Consultant" after leaving the Reproductive Health Interest Group at UCLA. "I just wanted to share one thing: the industry gets away with making false claims to every media outlet saying there's been no HIV transmission in the industry for 10 years, and that everybody follows the testing protocol and that's why there's been no HIV transmission in 10 years, that is a lie," he began. "The CDC, the California Department of Public Health have proven that is a lie, and for any news media to release that information saying there's been no on-set transmission of HIV in 10 years is to perpetuate that lie." Certainly, the clear implication left by the AHF speakers was that this alleged on-set transmission had occurred in California, since no other state was mentioned, but one alert reporter from the Los Angeles Daily News was knowledgeable enough to question whether the case under discussion had in fact taken place in Nevada. "We don't know from the report from the CDC where it took place," Weinstein evaded, "but it does indicate in the report that there was testing done and it was done by the approved Free Speech Coalition testing protocol." "The CDC, most likely to protect the information about where the transmission occurred, did not divulge specific locations of the shoots," added an equally evasive Cohen. "However, because it was a multistate investigation, that means that—and because the California Department of Public Health was involved, that means that part of this incident occurred in the state of California, and is an issue that must be addressed by the state of California, but we don't know exactly where the shoot occurred." There is no doubt that both Weinstein and Cohen know very well where the alleged transmission occurred—Nevada—but perhaps they felt that admitting that California's health code was not at all involved in the alleged transmission would weaken their case for new shooting requirements within California. In any case, Weinstein's and Cohen's evasion certainly puts Cohen's statement that "for any news media to release that information saying there's been no on-set transmission of HIV in 10 years is to perpetuate that lie" into a new light. Of course, those who saw AHF's press release announcing the press conference were likely disappointed by the apparent timidity of the actual conference itself. For example, the press release stated the following: "The new information published today in the MMWR report demonstrates that the Free Speech Coalition (FSC), the adult industry producers’ trade group, lies about its Performer Availability Screening Services (PASS) testing scheme and about HIV transmission in the adult film industry: "1. The FSC claims, 'The shoots in question did not adhere to the PASS testing protocols...' However, according to the MMWR report, the first performer had a negative HIV test within 14 days before filming, which complies with their own PASS testing protocols. "2. The FSC claims the first performer’s HIV test did not '…utilize the PASS database.' However, according to the MMWR report, the first performer's initial HIV test was conducted at a PASS-approved testing facility, which utilizes the PASS database. '3. The FSC claims the first performer’s HIV test '…fell below the standard set by PASS protocols, including the use of an ELISA HIV tests, rather than the highly sensitive RNA tests required by the industry.' However, according to the MMWR report, the first performer tested using the APTIMA HIV-1 RNA qualitative nucleic acid amplification test (NAAT), which is the standard HIV test set by PASS testing protocols." Those statements contain several lies and evasions. For example, the claim that the HIV+ performer "had a negative HIV test within 14 days before filming" and therefore "complies with their own PASS testing protocols" is completely misleading. For one thing, performers in the gay segment of the adult entertainment industry generally are not part of the PASS system (a situation FSC is working hard to rectify), so if the performer in question had not signed up to be part of the system, it doesn't matter that he took the same test as PASS  member performers take; it would not have appeared in the PASS database, even if (point 2) "the first performer's initial HIV test was conducted at a PASS-approved testing facility, which utilizes the PASS database." If the performer was not a PASS member, even if the testing facility had access to the PASS database, it would have nowhere to post that performer's test results since he was not a member of PASS. As for the CDC report itself, there is good reason to suspect that its text was influenced by unsupported AHF claims, since AHF gave a presentation directly to CDC personnel several months ago—with no offer of "equal time" for rebuttal to FSC or any of the physicians directly involved with adult performer testing. AHF's influence is most evident in the report section entitled "Discussion," which recounts several of the attempts that AHF has made to force barrier protections and other requirements on the adult production community, including the creation and passage of Measure B and the pending addition of Section 5193.1 to the California Health Code. While the report concludes that "consistent condom use" is "important," it also admits something AHF has been desperate to bury: "PrEP [pre-exposure prophylaxis] significantly reduces the risk for HIV acquisition among HIV-negative persons at high risk; however, PrEP is not an intervention with which employers can ensure compliance, and should be used with condoms to protect against both HIV and other STIs." Free Speech Coalition has indicated that it will be releasing a response to the AHF claims later this afternoon.

 
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