UCLA Syposium-Dec. 2009

I could have written the outcome of this symposium before I attended it, but I wanted to be fair and give the organizers the benefit of the doubt. Too, I was holding out hope that something good for the adult film performers would come out of it. But given the pre conference phone conversation I was in on, I could see the lack of common ground, at least on my part. They too must have been concerned as they did discuss the idea of having a mole amongst them in that conversation. I was assured that actual performers would be there and that actual numbers of infections would be used and neither happened. I didn’t know then, but would soon find out, that some members of this group had been organizing around for this legislative power grab for 3 years! Apparently this self described ‘think tank’ crafted this legislation with actual performers participation at the beginning, but not for the last two years ago. It seemed at least one former performer, a male, would participate. He was part of the press conference and stating that he had contracted HIV during the course of performing in adult films because he didn’t use condoms in his out of country shoots, thus violating the porn valley’s STI prevention protocol.

The host for the symposium was the UCLA Reproductive Health Interest Group’s subcommittee on Adult Film Industry, a sector of the school’s public health program so UCLA students where aloud to attend. The rest of the cast of characters reads like the who’s who of the AID’s testing industrial complex with the main players being from the Los Angles City and County; Los Angles Department of Pubic Health and AIDS Healthcare Foundation. Nevada State Health Division STD Control Program Office of Health Statistics and Surveillance sent two women of whom I sat next to in the opening plenary. They couldn’t tell me if the local Nevada county sheriff departments receive and/or hold actual copies of licensed prostitutes’ sexually transmitted disease tests results. (Some form of documentation of health status has to be held somewhere before legal work in the legal brothels can commence). A current brothel worker friend of my mine pays mandatory fees from $60 to $120 a week for these test.

There were a few of us from San Francisco; the Saint James Infirmary and the SF Department of Public Health STD Program. A San Francisco gay porn producer who already mandates condoms in film shoots was the only actual currently working member from the bay besides moi. My guess is that he was extended an invitation only because he’s been dealing with a California Occupational Safety and Health who issued violations to his company. Cal-OSH is slated to be the enforcer of the proposed legislation, will mandate condom use by amending current labor law, was not present. Also not present where any other actual currently working Adult Film Industry performers, producers, agents, distributors, etc. Also not present nor invited was AIM, the Adult Industry Medical Healthcare Foundation, the primary provider of STD screening for the AFI founded by a former female porn star. Two smaller clinics, both male run, where in attendance, apparently AIM’s competition. Adult film performers pay AIM $130 for an STD screening and they also sign a waver to have those results available to the producers who too pay to access the performers’ test results. I was invited by members of the student hosting group out of concern for the lack of worker organizing around this legislation. I co-moderated one of the four break out sessions titled ‘Empowering Performers to Advocacy’ and the organizers assigned who would attend which session!
The half day event started off with an announcement by a UCLA professor public health program Paula Tavro, who warned that this was an invitation only event and campus police had been alerted to assist with the removal of anyone who had not been invited or caused a disruption.

The opening plenary was a tough sell. I tried to listen and understand the slide presentation by the LC county health department about the actual numbers of STD infections but I had so many questions and apparently so did everyone else. I did finally get a question of Michael Wienstein, the ED of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, who spoke after his lawyer, a lobbyist Rand Martin, who went on and on about how difficult it is to get legislative sponsorship in Sacramento. They’d been rejected by the republicans because anything that encourages safe sex encourages sex and the republicans don’t want to encourage sex. Apparently legislatures didn’t want to deal with anything like this topic because as they told him, it had a ‘yuk’ factor. Also they encouraged the group to take a public health stance to justify this legislation but this legislation was about worker safety on the job and the industry didn’t initiate it. His goal was to get the legislation introduced and into a public hearing and shame anyone who dare disagree.

Wienstein clarified a question about the legislation’s mandating condoms for all scenes that involved ‘penetration sex acst’. He said that Cal OSH could issue wavers to producers who asked for them. Scenes involving oral for example could be granted a kind of exception because according to his organization, the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, oral sex in low risk for HIV transmission. He thought these kinds of details ought to be left up to the regulating body which he thought should be county health departments but Cal OSHA already has jurisdiction over blood born pathogens on the job. He thought producers ought to be charged with felonies if a transmission occurred but the legislation says ‘subject to civil, criminal and administrative penalties’. Cal OSH has administrative fines they can impose already. My questions, since I was sitting next to the Nevada State brothel sex surveillance ladies, focused on the legislation precluding folks with HIV from performing in film like they do in the Nevada brothels. And he said yes. I asked him if he realized that unprotected sex acts did occur in the brothels even though state law mandates condoms. He disagreed with me and then the professor stated that no disruptions would be tolerated. Wienstine had just stated that oral sex was low risk transmission for HIV. The next question was about the privacy of workers’ medical records which was one of Wienstien stated was one of their primary criticism of AIM but he blew that question off too.

It seemed that this gathering was just a formality for the already written legislation. There goal was to get more warm bodies to do the hard leg work of political organizing. And too it was important to me to hear from the horse’s mouth, the head of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation their belief that HIV transmission is so low (but not non existent) with oral sex that they proliferated this belief to the point that workings prostitutes, (like me), exotic dancers, web cam performers, phone sex operators are constantly being pestered by clients to exchange body fluids; bare back blow jobs was nauseating to say the least.

True story: in the weeks leading up to this symposium, I had participated in a phone conference with this group, whom I wasn’t made aware of their exact position on the sex industry in general. Most of the conversation revolved around how to get and handle the media. I barley got off the phone with them when I received a phone call from a regular but infrequent client who asked me for a ‘rb-bbbj’. I asked him to explain exactly what he wanted since he was a regular and I knew he wasn’t a cop. He replied that ‘Rb’ stands for redbook.com, a client generated website that discusses in detail and rates erotic service providers’ looks, services and surroundings. The ‘bbbj’ part stood for bare back blow job, oral sex without a condom. I told him I could not exchanging bodily fluids as it wasn’t safe and I encouraged him not to do it either and if he had he ought to get tested right away. But he was focused on finding someone who’d do it. I hung up knowing that he’d go down the list and find the person who needed the money and she’ll say yes.

So why is it that the AIDS Healthcare Foundation gets away with taking the position that oral sex without a condom is okay because it’s low risk for HIV transmission, but the LA county Department of Public Health was using all STD infection rates to justify their legislation mandating condoms? How is it that they don’t take responsibility for how this position negatively impacts the whole sex industry like prostitutes and exotic dancers on a day to day basis? They choosing to ignore some basics like prostitutes and exotic dancers individually make up a much larger groups than the estimated 2000 adult film performers, the majority of which are female too. And the former are being solicited for unsafe sex acts, sex acts that are criminal to negotiate with or without a condom. In fact, condoms are collected and used as evidence in prostitution arrests and prosecutions. Here all these group supporting this legislation and getting themselves paid by giving out condoms and conducting STD screenings then the condoms are they’ve given away are used as evidence of crime. They have creditability issues.

So the standard has to be that everyone has to have equal access to equal protection. Everybody has to have the right to say yes and right to say no. Yes to sex for money and no to unprotected sex and/or no to sex for money and yes to unprotected sex. Its unacceptable that these AIDS advocacy groups state that HIV transmission via unprotected oral sex is not high risk behavior and then creates legislation taking away everyone’s right to negotiate what’s safe on their job while furthering stigmatizing us to not be included in the crafting of legislation.

This legislation that they put forth regarding adult film performers was even generated by actual currently working performers sets a dangerous precedent . It’s un acceptable that they ignore the effects of their current policies on the heath and safety of the majority of sex industry workers; prostitutes who are put in a position to choose between working unsafely or not working at all while mandating condom use for adult film performers who aren’t beating down their door for their help! As the proponent of Proposition K, a San Francisco ballot measure qualified by a signature collection drive to stop the enforcement of the prostitution laws, our main goal was gain access to our right to say yes to sex and no to unprotected sex.

End part I

Part II
Given that the majority of the people at this symposium were male and gay male…The break out session on ‘Empowering the Performer to Advocacy’ which are primarily women…

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