UPDATED: Would New Bill Force HIV Discrimination in Gay Porn?
Yesterday, California State Assembly Bill AB1576 cleared its first hurdle and moved past the Labor and Employment Committee. If passed, the bill would require porn producers in California to not only use condoms, but require testing and screen out any HIV-positive performers. Most of the attention has been focused on the “straight” side of the industry, which currently uses 14-day testing system and now would be required to use condoms as well. But the bill’s affect on the gay porn — and gay men — could be even greater.
Currently, the gay porn industry has no unified policy toward HIV. Some bareback gay porn studios, like Treasure Island, celebrate HIV positive performers and allow them to perform without condoms. Other gay porn producers use testing systems similar to the straight side, or serosort (matching positive with positive, negative with negative). Others use condoms exclusively, not only to prevent the transmission of HIV, but also to keep from having to discriminate against HIV positive performers. AB1576 would not only legally require condoms be used in all productions, but it would also seem to keep HIV positive performers from having sex on camera — regardless of whether they used a condom.
The gay community’s relationship with HIV — and HIV discrimination — is much more nuanced than the straight industry. Reading through some of the straight porn news blogs — the equivalents of sites like Gay Porn Blog and The Sword — is like stepping back in time to 1983. I’ll spare you the nastiest bits, but it boils down to “HIV is a gay disease brought to the straight industry by crossover (bisexual) performers, who should be outted and exiled.” While we’ve spent the last 30 years learning to mitigate risk, to talk viral load and PrEP, and informed consent, they still take up pitchforks against us to protect innocent white women.
I wish I could say it was different on the political side. But AB1576 is essentially a legislative outgrowth of these same fears. As unbelievable as it seems, given the screaming headlines, the straight industry has not had an on-set transmission of HIV since 2004. But for right-wing bloggers and politicians, HIV is forever lurking at the door. So AB1576, a bill designed with vulnerable women in mind, requires both condoms and testing. While that may make straight people feel safer (and politicians feel grander), it would essentially require the gay porn industry to fire anyone with HIV.
There was a time when I was vigorously opposed to bareback porn. I was — and still am — vigorously in support of workplace safety. However, I also know that there’s something wrong in having the state say tell gay men that regardless of viral load, regardless of whether they use a condom in their personal life, regardless of the actual science, or whether you’ve discussed status with your partner, or whether you’re wearing a condom, that if you’re HIV-positive you need to be cast out. (Update: Or outted.)
Nevermind that in the past few months, several studies have come out showing that it’s near impossible to transmit the virus from someone with an undetectable viral load, or to someone who is taking a medication like Truvada. This bill — and the moral panic behind it — is from another era.
Perhaps not surprisingly, AB1576 is sponsored by the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, a controversial LA-based lobby that is similarly opposed to medication like Truvada and has used its high-profile attacks on the porn industry to drive a huge increase in fundraising.
Yesterday, I testified in Sacramento against the bill (only to be shut down from the Chair). Instead, what the committee heard — and voted on — was the testimony of two performers, Rod Daily and Cameron Bay, who contracted HIV in their personal life. Nevermind that the bill wouldn’t have prevented either seroconversion (Daily performed exclusively in condom scenes, and everyone that Bay ever performed with tested negative). The committee hearings were part sermon, part scare tactics about the evils of pornography. Science was left at the door. If the bill passes, so too will gay men and three decades of progress against HIV.
UPDATE: We just heard back from lawyers who state that the bill doesn’t actually require you to test NEGATIVE for HIV (or chlamydia, syphilis, herpes). I suspect it’s because you can’t require anyone to disclose such information without violating HIPPA regulations. So the requirement is just that you test for it every two weeks, and then … use it as a paper airplane? Present it for inspection? Smoke it? It doesn’t actually say, which makes the whole thing seem even more asinine. You’ll have to forgive my not-so-prescient legal analysis of a bill that doesn’t make much logical sense.