Talent, Agents Meet to Discuss HIV/STD Testing Facilities

CHATSWORTH, Calif.—Between 60 and 75 adult performers, directors, producers and agents met last night at Hustler Studios for a discussion over which HIV/STD testing facilities should be supported by the industry and its trade association, the Free Speech Coalition (FSC).

There were strong opinions expressed by supporters of Talent Testing Services (TTS), Cutting Edge Testing (CET), the APHSS reporting system (operated by FSC) and even by people with little or no ax to grind.

The two topics that garnered the most attention were the positions taken by industry mogul Manwin, which recently announced that performers in its movies would be required to show a clean test that was not more than two weeks old, and that it would not accept tests from TTS, only from CET; and the fact that until recently, CET had been using the Abbott RealTime Quantitative HIV-1 test which had not been approved by the FDA as a diagnostic test to confirm the presence of the HIV virus, but had recently switched to the Gen-Probe Aptima HIV-1 RNA Qualitative Assay, which has been approved for that purpose.

Adult talent manager Shy Love charged that the Abbott test was inferior to the Aptima, although a statement released on May 9 by Free Speech Coalition claimed that "[m]edical experts have assured APHSS.org that the Abbott test is a good option for determining the presence of HIV for adult performers," and it is well-known that the now-defunct AIM testing facility used an "off-label" PCR-DNA test for more than a decade with excellent results. However, a team from Gen-Probe gave a short lecture to those present describing how their Aptima test works and why it is superior to the Abbott RealTime test. (Details of that lecture, which was very similar to one given at a recent industry meeting at Penthouse Studios, can be found here.)

"When it comes to the health of my talent," Love later stated, "that prioritizes over anyone because I was there at the forefront waiting to see if I was HIV positive [during the 2004 Darren James incident]; not like everyone else who stands in the background and makes the decisions on your behalf. The reason why we are here is so that the talent can make the decision; not the agent, not the labs, not anybody else: you. So before everybody starts attacking, actually realize, if it wasn't for the agents in this room, you would still be using the Abbott test where you assumed—where specific labs in this building [sic] have said, and we have paperwork saying, 'the Abbott is the best; it's the gold standard; it's the this and everything else,' and we have confirmed, it is not the best for you, but yet, everyone was listening, so we're being—excuse us—thrown like into the wolves. 'Well, you only care about yourself.' If we cared about ourselves, why would we eliminate a test that would put you at risk?"

A fair portion of the meeting was taken up with both attacks and defenses of the Abbott test—all of which, however, occurred without any direct information from Abbott since no one from the company was in attendance.

Another difference between TTS and CET is that CET has a doctor overseeing the clinic's activities, while TTS has its owner/manager, Sixto Pacheco, in charge—a fact that he confirmed when he was asked to speak.

"I have to say, we are not a clinic; we are the testing laboratory, and we are a molecular testing laboratory," Pacheco said.

Performer/director Kimberly Kane asked Pacheco, "How would you handle an outbreak? Like how would you handle if a talent, someone in our industry, got sick and what would you do to provide aftercare for that person?" Immediatey, Love jumped in to respond. "Let me say something real quick: Right now, so everybody knows, that's not even properly set up as of right now, which is what the agents are trying to put together with other departments within this industry. So as of right now, since AIM has been gone, and for the people who have been in the business for over a decade, there hasn't been that set standard yet in this industry."

"Cutting Edge has a doctor who's a specialist," Kane retorted, and then turned to Pacheco to ask, "I just want to know how would you as a company handle a talent getting HIV and would you provide aftercare? Would that person be called or would that person come in, and what would happen when they walked out the door?"

"It depends," Pacheco said. "And I say 'it depends'—why? Because we get samples from all over the country. We also have our site here in L.A., we have our site in Miami; we get samples from Chicago, we get samples from Minnesota, we get samples from Arizona, from Vegas, and everything like that. Now, to answer your direct question, how do we treat a person? We're not a hospital. You know, we don't provide aftercare. We're not a clinic and I want to go back, when we started Talent Testing Service, our idea was not to be an AIM. Our idea was to provide the best test to the talent community. If we—let's take the easy one—if we have a positive case of chlamydia or gonorrhea, we give you options. You know, you can go to A, B, C, D, E, F and G."

Pacheco also addressed the issue of reporting HIV cases. "I said the easy one; let's talk about the hard one, okay? Let's say we jump into a case where we have an HIV. We have protocols and procedures in place which we go—abide by, which are aligned with the state laws that we follow and we contact the patient, we advise them of the result, we tell them that there are resources available for him or her to go to, and on his way."

Also during the meeting, Love made the argument that competition among labs was necessary because "if there is a monopoly within labs, and if AIDS Healthcare Foundation comes in and they shut down Cutting Edge, where are we gonna go then? Are you going to go crying to TTS like we always do every time a lab gets shut down: 'Can you please take us back? Can you please take us back?' Because we [talent] do it every time. Or do we go and create two different labs that will provide the services so that if one gets shut down, you're all still making money? And just to let you know, if it wasn't for TTS getting us in conjunction with the people from Gen-Probe, you guys would have never known that you were taking a test that puts your lives at risk on a daily basis."

The question of whether talent agents should have access to their clients' test results was brought up, with Love claiming, "We won't know if you're tested or not; we have to assume you're doing your jobs correctly, throw you on set and the chance is that you've got to take the chance that the person next to you is tested because we won't have any verification yet." However, it was quickly pointed out that any performer can sign a release allowing his/her agent (or anyone else) to see the results of the person's test, though opinions differ on whether allowing agents (or anyone else) to have such information is in the best interests of the performer.

Near the end of the discussion Love stated, "The good thing is, press is here, so if this is what talent wants, the press is willing to write what you say; they can't alter what you say. If you guys say we want the freedom right to choose which lab we go to, have multiple labs so there's not a monopoly so we do not shut down, just go—raise your hand right now and the press will have to put it up, and this will allow Manwin, APHSS and Free Speech to hear that this is what you want and it's not coming from the agent's mouth," whereupon she then proceeded to ask those present to vote on the question, "Does everyone want freedom to choose which labs they want and not to be forced into a monopoly, raise your hand," most hands in the room went up.

The discussion often degenerated into a shouting match, and it's unclear whether attendees came away with an accurate understanding of the main issues involved. Hopefully, as the discussions continue, testing priorities can be agreed upon that consider the best interests of both the performer community and the industry at large.