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LA Voters May Decide Condoms in Porn Question

by Shaya Tayefe Mohajer
Wednesday Aug 17, 2011

If a health advocacy group gets enough petition signatures, Los Angeles residents could be asked to vote on whether porn producers must require performers to use condoms on shoots as a condition of getting a filming permit.

AIDS Healthcare Foundation President Michael Weinstein announced Tuesday that his group needs 41,138 valid city voter signatures in the next four months to get the issue on the June 2012 ballot.

"As a citizen of Los Angeles, I have a responsibility in my own hometown to make sure we limit the spread of disease, but also to ensure the safety of performers in this industry," said Weinstein, who says his group has hired a firm to gather the signatures.

The proposed ordinance would apply to commercial filming of adult films, and would call on the city to charge adult film producers a "fee sufficient to pay for periodic inspections" for enforcement.

In an interview Tuesday, city AIDS Coordinator Stephen David Simon said while he values AHF's advocacy work and their massive billboard campaign encouraging HIV testing, this latest campaign won't work for LA.

For starters, by going through the city permit process, condom use enforcement would not fall to county health inspectors, but rather Los Angeles police officers would need to patrol porn shoots to ensure compliance, said Simon.

"With all the budget cuts, do we want to make this a priority and focus of LAPD?" asked Simon. "I don't know if that's in a taxpayer's best interest."

Simon said the city supports efforts already under way to tighten statewide workplace safety rules through the Division of Occupational Safety and Health, better known as Cal/OSHA.

The ballot box query is the latest move in the AIDS Healthcare Foundation's longstanding campaign to require safe sex in pornography.

The group has had three unsuccessful attempts to find a lawmaker to back statewide legislation to mandate condoms in porn. A lawsuit asking a judge to mandate local health officials to crack down on unprotected sex was also unsuccessful.

Acting in response to an AHF complaint, state workplace safety officials are already working to clarify an existing regulation, which directs nurses and medical professionals to wear gloves at work, to specify condom use in porn, too.

The majority of American commercial porn films are shot in the city's San Fernando Valley, where the multi-billion dollar industry has long resisted the AIDS Healthcare Foundation's attempts to require safe sex for its performers.

The exact number of productions that occur without permits is subject to speculation, but about 200 permits a month are issued to the adult film industry, according to Weinstein.

FilmLA spokesman Todd Lindgren said that number sounds too high, and the most recent number he recalls is about 40 adult film permits a month. The not-for-profit agency coordinates and processes film permits for Los Angeles, which typically run about $625 for any shoot - adult or otherwise - for a 2-week, 10-location permit.

Last year, AHF asked FilmLA to stop issuing permits to porn shoots, to no avail.

In Los Angeles, county and city officials have largely resisted enforcing or strengthening any safe sex mandates on the porn industry.

Last year, Los Angeles County public health director Dr. Jonathan Fielding said regulating condom use on porn sets is nearly impossible, saying porn shoots are typically clandestine operations that require little more than a bed and a camera.

Any success with the ballot initiative would likely drive more of the industry underground, said Christian Mann, general manager of porn production company Evil Angel and a board member of the Free Speech Coalition, the industry's trade association.

"AHF's end-run around Los Angeles County's previously stated position that they won't put themselves in a enforcement capacity, to do it as a ballot initiative system, will probably do what so many regulatory schemes do: fail to achieve the ambition but instead create a new problem," said Mann.

About a third of Evil Angel's productions are shot in Europe, and Mann, an industry veteran, says the initiative would make Los Angeles the only city he knows of in the world to require condoms in porn.

Consumers demand porn without condoms, and the market would force Los Angeles producers to respond, Mann said.

Mann believes porn producers who stay in Los Angeles will be less likely to draw permits, forcing them to go underground and shoot scenes without condoms.

"At the end of the day, it winds up hurting business and driving business out of Los Angeles," said Mann. That makes it "more difficult for us to maintain an environment that we think is the safest possible environment for these performers that still makes it possible for saleable productions to be created."

Simon says what he's concerned about now is the spread of illness in the wake of the closure of the Adult Industry Medical Healthcare Foundation in Dec. 2010, known as AIM.

Since its opening in 1998, the San Fernando Valley clinic catered to porn stars with frequent HIV testing and was frequently criticized by the AIDS Healthcare Foundation before it was forced to close for inadequate licensing.

AIM operated a database for porn producers to check the most recent test results for actors, and though the system was imperfect because it didn't track non-HIV sexually transmitted diseases, it was better than nothing, said Simon.

Over the long term, the industry seemed to be regulating itself adequately through the clinic's work, he added.

"A dozen infections is a bad thing, we certainly empathize," said Simon. "...but a dozen infections from hundreds of thousands of possible exposures is quite successful from a health perspective."

A new database is in the "beta phase" of testing, with performers and testing facilities just beginning to log on and share information, said Mann.

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