On August 29th, my shoot was cancelled, and I had the day off from work because someone in Florida had tested positive for HIV. This is the bizarre result of working in an industry in which we necessarily disclose our sero-status to our coworkers, and negative STI test results are prerequisite for employment.
A few days later, the performer was retested. Results came up negative this time—a false positive result occurs occasionally when samples are contaminated—and business resumed. However, this latest HIV scare fueled the ongoing debate over mandated condom use and industry safety practices.
On August 30, a friend had sent me an article on Jezebel: “Adult Performer Tests Positive for HIV, Shuts Down L.A. Porn Industry.” Have you seen this? she wrote. As in dozens of articles over the last few years, the AIDS Healthcare Foundation’s Michael Weinstein is quoted as saying that the performer who tested positive “proves that condoms must be used, and those who say the database is enough show, ‘outrageous disregard for the health and safety of performers and the community at large.’”
Weinstein’s hypocrisy enrages me. First of all, it is because of him that the Adult Industry Medical (AIM) clinic that had handled our testing for the last decade was shut down earlier this year. What many of the news articles reporting on AIM’s closure have failed to note is that Weinstein and the AHF were the financial backers of the lawsuit that closed AIM’s doors.
The Jezabel article says that the two female performers who sued AIM in 2009 claimed that their privacy had been violated when their HIV status had been released. However, by going to the AIM clinic and signing the release forms for their shoot-prerequisite STI tests, these two women agreed to having their test results released to producers, directors, and their scene partners, just as they would then have access to their scene partners’ test results, giving them some measure of protection against STI transmission. This kind of information-sharing is exactly what keeps us safe on set. That Michael Weinstein would back a lawsuit that claims this consensual sharing of sero-status is an illegal privacy violation, and then would claim he cares about the “health and safety of performers” is just disgusting.
Further, it begs the question: does he believe that testing itself is unnecessary? That condoms would replace testing? It seems like an astounding and illogical leap to claim that that system would be safer. The only thing that would change would be that we would no longer find out if a performer had tested positive, and that test result would not make its way into news media headlines.
If AIM were still functioning, protocol for a positive test by an active performer would have been in place immediately following the August 31st incident, and that performer’s first- and second-generation scene partners would have been quickly quarantined and tested. As it was, the multiple replacement testing organizations that have been put to use nationwide did not have synchronized protocols. The performer who tested positive was in Florida, and the California-based organization that was put together by the Free Speech Coalition in the wake of AIM’s closing did its best, without a fully developed protocol or infrastructure, and without the kind of national cooperation AIM previously commanded, to identify the performers in need of generational testing. In the days before we learned that the test result was in fact a false positive, it became clear what a tremendous loss the closure of AIM has been.
All of this makes me wonder what it is that Michael Weinstein wants, because it certainly isn’t the protection of performers. First of all, were we to mandate condom use in straight porn as Weinstein suggests, performers would still occasionally test positive for HIV. Let me be clear about this. In the last decade, six active performers have tested positive for HIV, and only three of those transmissions have been shown to have occurred on set. That means that at least half of the positive HIV tests that Weinstein touts as being “proof” of the need for a condom mandate occurred due to circumstances in the performers’ private lives. Mandatory on-set condom use would not change this.
Second, six positive tests in ten years, among thousands of performers in hundreds of thousands of shoots, strikes me as a shockingly low number. Yesterday, another friend of mine, an attorney, said: “I’m sure people test positive for HIV in my industry too, but everyone doesn’t find out about it.” In other words, we don’t know how safe or unsafe we are as adult film performers because we don’t have comparable statistics from other populations.
Performers’ STI test results are public information precisely because we make them public, and because we, unlike much of the general population, voluntarily test for STIs every 28 days or less. How dare Michael Weinstein claim that we as an industry have shown a disregard for each other’s health and safety? His is the only outrageous disregard I’ve seen exhibited lately.