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Condoms-in-porn L.A. ballot initiative petition effort underway

Adult film performers would be required to use condoms to obtain Los Angeles city film permits under a measure local AIDS activists hope to put on the city’s June 2012 ballot, activists announced Monday.

Activists must submit a petition with at least 41,138 qualifying signatures (15% of all votes cast in the last mayoral election) by Dec. 23 in order to place the measure on the June ballot, city election officials said. If they succeed, it will be the first time the issue — which has been litigated and disputed during state regulatory meetings — has come before L.A. voters.

Weinstein The Times discussed the petition drive with three leading proponents Monday: Michael Weinstein, president of the Los Angeles-based nonprofit AIDS Healthcare Foundation, and former porn performers-turned-activists Derrick Burts and Darren James, who both contracted HIV while working in adult films.

Q: Why do you think we need a ballot measure requiring condom use by adult performers as a condition of adult film permits in Los Angeles?

Weinstein: It’s fair to protect performers the same way we protect workers in non-porn films and other workplaces. There’s been a lot of squabbling about whose responsibility it is to enforce these laws. It’s our belief that the city, the county, the state and the federal government have different jurisdictions as it relates to this. The county department of public health is responsible for controlling disease in the community, and the city has the ability to control zoning and issuing permits.

Q: What are the risks of not mandating condoms in porn now?

Burts Burts: My first month I came up with three STDs in a short period of time. I have herpes and that’s something I have forever. It’s not just HIV. My agent told me, when I told him I had herpes, "Well, you might as well continue doing porn, because everybody has it." That’s the mindset. They don’t care about the safety of performers.

James: It’s just business as usual. When I tell people my story, they always say “You mean you don’t use condoms?” We think by using a test you’re covered, but that’s false. That’s after the fact. It’s just more stuff that’s exposed about how the industry is portrayed. It’s just an open gun waiting to go off for the next person. A lot of people are left in the dark about what goes on in this industry.

James Q: Have you tried to gather signatures before in Los Angeles for similar ballot measures?

Weinstein: This is the first time. We were naïve enough to believe the government has to do the work of protecting public health. This should not have to be taken to the ballot box.

Q: Didn’t the Los Angeles City Council consider the issue earlier this year?

Weinstein: They deflected responsibility to the state. This has been the hot potato we have been dealing with for years. Since we couldn't get the City Council to act, we have decided to take it directly to the people of Los Angeles.

Q: What have state and county regulators told you?

Weinstein: I think that Cal-OSHA is doing a bang-up job. They have cited these companies and made it abundantly clear that the law is that you must use condoms in the making of these films, and they have expressed their intent to come up with rules as to health and safety in these films.

The county said that the state should handle it and there should be a law passed by the state Legislature. We haven’t been able to find one legislator in five years willing to carry this legislation. The lack of spine by legislators and their unwillingness to treat these performers as people is incredible.

Q: What do you say to members of the porn industry who say condoms are not needed because they already have STD testing?

  Burts: Testing only notifies you of what you have or don’t have already. There’s still a large time gap where you can catch an STD and spread it. The real protection comes from wearing the condoms. Testing isn’t required. They should be following the law. On top of that, they should also do the testing.

Q: What about those who say mandating condoms would just drive the legitimate porn industry out of California — to Florida, overseas or underground?

James: They’ve been going on like that for years. I predicted something was going to happen after mine and it happened how many times? All they’re going to do is go back to the same thing. We’re losing focus. We’re losing people — young lives. I’m just getting really tired of hearing the same thing. Somebody has to put their foot down. It’s always been underground. That doesn’t matter.

Burts: A lot of producers are worried if condoms are required, they will lose money. But Wicked Pictures is enormously successful and they enforce using condoms. So I don’t see why they use that excuse.

Weinstein: Companies like Hustler and Vivid with their huge buildings, they can’t operate underground.

Q: If you get this initiative on the ballot and it passes, will it be enforceable?

Weinstein: If you take out a film permit on the basis of the fact that you are not going to follow the law and something happens, your insurance will not cover you. There is a provision in this for spot checks. Spot checking is the way that these laws are enforced. The fact that we’re not going to catch everyone or catch everything is not a reason to do nothing. We’ve demonstrated that we’re not going to give up, and this is just the next step in the battle.

Q: Do you think it will pass?

Weinstein: We’d rather take our chances with the electorate than with the cowardly political establishment. In the '80s, we didn’t consider gay men’s lives expendable. We don’t consider the thousands of people who we treat in Africa expendable. And we don’t think performers should be treated that way. The message that goes out that unsafe sex is hot is unacceptable.

Burts: Our medical care is not being paid for privately — this is taxpayers' money. It does have an impact on them. Their opinion matters. County officials haven’t been stepping up to do anything about this. I’d rather leave it with those odds rather than those council people who aren’t doing anything.

Q: Some in the porn industry have asked why don't you just focus on HIV prevention and treatment?

Weinstein: We’re doing that to a great extent. We can walk and chew gum at the same time. This is our hometown. How can we allow this outrage to go on in our own backyard? We are not anti-porn. We have no problem with people making adult films. A little piece of latex has the ability to save lives.

Q: So what's next?

Weinstein: We have hired a professional signature-gathering entity to collect the signatures. Then they will be certified by the city clerk, then it will be on the ballot and we will have the opportunity to mount a campaign in every city council district. We will expect every City Council member to take a stand for or against.

Q: Where can people go to sign the petition or find out more?

Weinstein: The committee is called FAIR. For now they can go to www.aidshealth.org.

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-- Molly Hennessy-Fiske

Photo (top): Michael Weinstein, president of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, is leading an effort to get a measure on the June 2012 ballot that would force the City of Los Angeles to  issue film permits to those who require adult film performers to use condoms during productions. Credit: Me Melcon /Los Angeles Times

Photo (middle) Derrick Burts, 24, of Riverside said he tested HIV-positive in October at the Adult Industry Medical Healthcare Foundation in Sherman Oaks after working in both gay and straight porn films for a few months. He had previously been identified only as Patient Zeta. Credit: Luis Sinco /Los Angeles Times

Photo (bottom): Darren James vividly remembers the 2004 phone call that changed his life. He hopes that by getting his story out, the porn industry will be moved to require condom use to protect the health of its stars. Credit: Stefano Paltera /For The Times

Video: Derrick Burts is the adult film performer previously identified as "Patient Zeta," who tested positive for HIV in October. Credit: Myung Chun /Los Angeles Times

 
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