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AIDS Healthcare Foundation Hits a New Low - By - September 2, 2015 - SF Weekly
SF Weekly

AIDS Healthcare Foundation Hits a New Low

Last week, the AIDS Healthcare Foundation served subpoenas to three clinics that do STI screening for adult performers, thus putting patients' medical privacy at risk. Michael Weinstein (President of AHF) and his supporters hope that by combing through medical records, they'll prove that the Free Speech Coalition (the adult industry's trade association) lies about transmission rates in porn performers.

In Weinstein's eyes, porn performers don't deserve medical privacy, nor do they deserve to have input on laws made about their bodies. For years, Weinstein has been on a vehement crusade to bring mandatory condoms to adult films in California. A.B. 1576, which aimed to bring the condom policy statewide, was introduced in 2014 but dismissed after opposition from adult performers. Weinstein found success with Measure B, Los Angeles County's Safer Sex in the Adult Film Industry Act, in 2013. The result hasn't been more condom use in porn; it just means that less porn gets made in L.A. as companies moved elsewhere. Having self-regulated for the past decade, the adult industry has managed to keep transmission rates remarkably low. Currently, the industry standard is for working performers to test every 14 days for HIV, gonorrhea, chlamydia, trichomonas, hepatitis B and C, and syphilis. The HIV test used by facilities that work in the Performer Availability Screening Service (PASS) system, an APTIMA RNA test, is more expensive and more accurate than those used in most clinics. When someone tests positive for HIV in a pre-shoot, the entire industry shuts down for a couple of days to ensure that performer hasn't transmitted HIV to anyone else.

Last year, after Measure B pushed several companies to Nevada, the industry saw its first on-set transmission in over a decade. Though the performer tested negative for HIV before his shoot, the test used was not the RNA plasma test that is the standard here in California. By the time he shot the scene, his viral load had increased to the point where he could transmit the virus to someone else.

“Non-compliant shoots are one of the chief dangers of pushing the adult industry out of state, and outside the established testing protocol,” the Free Speech Coalition said in a statement last December about the transmission.

Now, Weinstein has gathered enough signatures to potentially put a new statewide condom mandate on the ballot in 2016. His amendments to the California Safer Sex in the Adult Film Industry Act would enable “private citizens to enforce the act when the state fails to do so,” which means that anyone in the state could potentially file a civil lawsuit against an adult film producer for not using condoms. There's even a financial incentive — 25 percent of the financial judgement, plus any legal fees incurred, would go to the plaintiff. But the biggest incentive would go to Weinstein himself, who wants an appointment as the act's chief enforcer, giving him a sizeable state budget to go after porn that doesn't comply. After spending over $1 million of his own non-profit's money on this anti-porn crusade, he now wants a blank check from California taxpayers.

Though condom use in adult films is far from unheard of, demand for condom-less porn won't disappear if this law passes. Rather than relegating anyone who shoots bareback porn to the fringes of illegality, why not follow the advice of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or the White House's Office of National AIDS Policy? Each recommends a combination of methods — testing, informed consent, and PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis, of which Truvada is the best-known brand), as well as condoms — to reduce HIV transmission. The adult industry is not anti-condom, but using condoms as a fix-all is just a political dog-and-pony-show to gain public support and use taxpayer money to fund Weinstein's anti-porn fixation. Capitalizing on the stigma associated with the adult industry simply doesn't help combat AIDS.

To concentrate so blindly on a population with such low transmission rates is a flagrant waste of resources at a time when HIV refuses to quit. AHF has funneled millions of dollars into their anti-porn campaign, while populations with exponentially higher transmission rates struggle to find funding. (Meanwhile, the organization faces a whistleblower lawsuit that claims AHF engaged in a patient referral kickback scheme that defrauded the federal governmentof millions of dollars.)

The reasons why people continue to contract HIV are well-established. Poverty, incarceration, abstinence education, and lack of funding for public health care are responsible for the 50,000 new transmissions in this country every year — not porn stars.