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Porn studios weigh fleeing or fighting L.A. condom law

AIDS Healthcare Foundation demonstrates near 2011 adult film awards show

Porn studios, facing a new Los Angeles law that will force adult actors to wear condoms as a protection against AIDS, are mulling whether to move filming out of city limits or take legal action.

The new ordinance, which takes effect March 5, will require porn performers to wear condoms while shooting on location in the city.

The measure has shaken the pornographic film industry, which until now had found a happy, largely accepting home in L.A.

For years, producers have operated lucrative businesses in anonymous office parks in the San Fernando Valley. Available in the city were a steady supply of actors and film production talent as well as opulent mansions that often served as theatrical backdrops. By one estimate, at least 5% of on-location shoots were for adult films.

The landmark law marks a rare attempt to regulate how films are made, threatening an industry that has been a source of millions of dollars in revenue. AIDS activists are gathering signatures for a countywide ballot measure that would extend the ban to dozens of additional communities.

It's a debate that pits the desire to protect the health of porn actors against the freedom to make films that audiences want to see.

The Los Angeles City Council acted earlier this year after a series of incidents in which adult film productions were suspended amid concerns that HIV had been transmitted among performers. Despite the health risks of having unprotected sex on movie sets, the industry has strongly opposed a condom requirement, saying that monthly testing already safeguards performers and that customers won't pay to see such films.

AIDS activists say that the fight over condoms is about protecting performers' health and opposing the promotion of unsafe sex.

"The fact that porn sends out a message that the only type of sex that's hot is unsafe ... we think that's detrimental," said Michael Weinstein, president of the Los Angeles-based AIDS Healthcare Foundation.

The Los Angeles law was the result of months of aggressive lobbying by Weinstein and other AIDS activists, who have long called on the government to step in and make the porn workplace safer. The council approved the law only after activists pressured it by gathering enough signatures to ask voters to decide the issue at the ballot box. The industry has been forced to suspend production several times amid reports that adult performers contracted HIV. One was Derrick Burts, who tested HIV-positive in 2010 and said clinic staff told him he was infected by a fellow performer.

"It's a broken system that they have in place," said Burts, who backs mandatory condoms. "What performer wouldn't want to feel more safe on a work set?"

Diane Duke of the adult film lobby group Free Speech Coalition said performers should have the right to have sex as they wish.

"This is the first step of government overreach into the way we make movies," Duke said. "It's clearly the government interfering where it really doesn't belong. ... Because our industry deals with sex … we're vulnerable and easy to attack."

Read the full story here.

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-- Rong-Gong Lin II

Photo: The AIDS Healthcare Foundation demonstrates last February near the L.A. site of an adult film awards show. Credit: Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times

 
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