SACRAMENTO, Calif.—Beginning at approximately 3 p.m. today, more than 30 adult performers from all over the country took seats in the hearing room of the state's Arts and Labor Committee, all voicing their opposition to the so-called California Safer Sex in the Adult Industry Act. If approved by voters in November, the ballot initiative would allow anyone in the state to sue adult performers and producers if the person saw hardcore adult content where condoms and other "barrier protections" were not being used, and expose performers' real names, home addresses and other personal information to the public, thus opening them for harassment by anti-porn groups.
"There was a wide variety of performers who were speaking out against this," noted Free Speech Coalition Communications Director Michael Stabile. "You had traditional studio performers; you had cam performers; you had LGBTQ performers; you had men; you had women; you had trans performers. People were coming from all different parts of the industry to talk about ways in which this law would affect them."
The hearing was strictly informational, a constitutional requirement that would be the same for any ballot initiative, though depending on the initiative's purpose, perhaps before a different committee, and the hearing was divided into four sections. It began with a report from the legislature's bipartisan legal analyst, followed by a presentation by the initiative's proponents AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF), then a presentation by opponents of the measure, each followed by questions from the committee panel, and finally the performers themselves were given an opportunity to address the committee.
"Even the analyst had a hard time interpreting the initiative," noted Ela Darling, secretary of APAC, who was in Sacramento speaking for that performer group. "Some of the questions that they put to him, he said were hard to answer because the language is not very clear. The analyst said there was a rebuttable presumption if condoms weren't visible in the film, but that that puts the burden of proof on the producers—and even if condoms are proven, the point at which that is determined would already be past the stage where the process would reveal our legal names and home addresses.
"He also said it would more than double the statute of limitations for going after productions perceived to be in violation of the condom mandate," Darling added, "and that if Cal-OSHA doesn't or chooses not to act on a complaint within 21 days, the person making the complaint can sue producers and anyone who financially benefits. He said it was likely the measure would reduce state tax revenue by several million dollars because porn will leave California. It was clear, listening to him, that this measure is ambiguous, imprecise and not very well defined. They used dated language in parts of it."
When AHF had its turn to speak, it brought out several of the "usual suspects": Sofia Delgado, Cameron Bay and others who contracted HIV in their personal lives while they were working as adult performers, as well as a physician and a few other speakers, all of whom concentrated on the "health safety" part of the initiative, which would require that condoms and other barrier protections be used in adult content.
"They were like, yeah, obviously performers are exempt from this [legal liability]; look at the language," Darling recalled. "It's only the people who are taking advantage and benefiting from performers, so it was really great they focused on condoms for the most part because I got up there—I was the first person to speak during that part of the hearing, and I made it very clear that condoms are not what our concern is; our concern is about the personal privacy and safety of performers, because the way this thing is structured, any California citizen can file a complaint with Cal-OSHA, and if OSHA decides that that's frivolous or if they make a professional decision not to pursue it, then that person can go after us personally after three weeks. They have three weeks to act and then they can go after us, sue us, take us to court; we would have to pay a lot of legal fees out of pocket; they would learn our legal names; they would learn our home addresses. And even if it was deemed to be a frivolous lawsuit and that person had to pay for our legal fees, there is no amount of legal fees they could pay for that would make up for the violation of my personal privacy."
"I think that it is important to realize that the state ballot initiative is trying to push through severely discriminatory laws under the guise of safer sex, and that's something that California simply will not stand for," added Free Speech Coalition Executive Director Eric Paul Leue, who attended the hearing. "The forms of worker harassment that are included in this bill, the lawsuits it will entail and be able to be directed directly at performers, are just frightening. Considering how many LGBTQ individuals work in the industry, privacy of those home addresses and legal names should be a strong focus, and it is unimaginable how bad the outcomes would be if those who despise the LGBTQ community were able to find our performers, like Venus Lux or Stefani Special, at their home addresses. We see them demonstrating at Pride parades; imagine if the Westboro Baptist Church were to picket our performers at their home addresses. It's frightening and it's nothing that belongs in the state of California."
Indeed, Darling shared some of her personal experiences with harassment that resulted from her identity information having been made available on PornWikiLeaks several years ago.
"I talked about how there is a man whose name I don't know, whose name I have never seen, whose location I don't know," she revealed, "but what I do know about him is that he called my mother at work to harass her and say obscene things to her; he's called other family members of mine who have had to leave their work as a result. That started years ago but it's still happening and I may have to move again because of it. I get death threats; I get rape threats; I had someone threaten to kill my dog—imagine if any of those people had my home address! That guy did all that just with my legal name; imagine if he had my home address. It honestly terrifies me. So I spoke to those things."
Darling also rebutted AHF's contention that performers will be unaffected by the lawsuits that could be filed by citizens if they can't see condoms in productions.
"I spoke about how some adult performers are producers; we can make and trade content; we have clip stores; we are affiliates of sites, and all these things are ways that we financially benefit from the film," she noted. "Therefore, we actually would be just as susceptible to these lawsuits from people, so we are not exempt from it; it does not offer us any protection. Most performers, even if they're not doing something large scale like I am, they still trade content with each other. If you have sex with your boyfriend on cams, you could be just as vulnerable as anyone else."
When it came time for the committee members to ask questions of the witnesses, Sen. Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) queried Cameron Bay as to who pays for performer testing, and whether AIDS Healthcare's free testing clinics would be available to adult performers? In response, Bay claimed that the industry only accepts test results from "their personal industry testing service," allegedly because "they can control everything."
However, when Darling spoke and was asked a similar question, she had the correct answer.
"When I got up there, they asked if we would be able to use a test from a free clinic like AHF, and I said no, and here's why: They use something called an ELISA test. And an ELISA test has a much greater window period than the HIV Aptima RNA test that we use, which actually tests for the RNA of the virus, so no, we wouldn't, but not because we are trying to maintain control but simply because we have higher expectations of safety," Darling recounted. "I also told them that these are very expensive tests, and even health insurance won't cover it. Then [attorney] Karen [Tynan] talked about how the industry has worked to bring down the costs, which if you just went through your doctor and got the same panel we get, it could cost $900 but because of the work the industry does and the supplements that are given to us, our tests end up being $155 to $165 at the clinic, but then I get a performer subsidy every month when I test that brings that price down to $120, $100."
But Leue felt that aside from the legal aspects, the initiative's impact on performers was too great to be ignored.
"For us, it was important to highlight the bigotry of this state ballot initiative and the severe danger of these frivolous lawsuits that will be enabled," he told AVN, "and I think what was most important was that we saw that the legislators were very attentive. Some of them were incredibly well-informed, understanding what this means and what this will mean,, and that was really the goal, preparing for this hearing while we prepare for the California Democratic Convention next weekend, June 17-19."
According to Leue, in light of all the opposition that has been lining up against this initiative, as well as the attitudes expressed at today's hearing, AHF president Michael Weinstein has the ability to pull the initiative off of November's ballot, as long as he does so by the end of June—but Leue considered that to be unlikely.
He believe that Michael Weinstein, "even though he will be aware of the severe dangers that this poses to the LGBTQ community and the privacy of performers and their personal safety," will not back down. "Not ever will he pull this initiative and sit down with us and actually talk about how to make performers safer," Leue opined.
"The proponents of the initiative always claim to speak for the performers," Stabile added, "and it’s always refreshing when you have this opportunity for performers to actually speak for themselves, because it is so different from what people expect. This is an initiative that is tremendously dangerous to performers, and proponents of it don’t seem to understand.
"When you listen to the responses and the intelligent questions that came out of the legislators, it had a real effect on them," he continued. "This wasn’t something that was a casual concern to them or was something that they were not terribly invested in. This was something they felt very strongly about."