CANOGA PARK, Calif. — Exactly one week ago, the adult entertainment industry came away with a big victory after California’s Occupational Safety & Health Standards Board voted against new rules for the production of films.
Instrumental in rallying the performing and production communities to attend the Oakland, Calif., meeting and provide face-to face testimony to the five-member Standards Board meeting last Thursday was the newly appointed Free Speech Coalition executive director, Eric Paul Leue.
After five hours of testimony, the board voted down a set of proposed regulations for adult film performers. These proposed regulations, developed and sponsored by the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, not only included mandatory condoms, but latex dental dams to protect the mouth and eye protection such as goggles.
While the big victory in Oakland provides a rosier future for the adult biz, the adult industry faces further challenges this year as another porn ballot regulation attempt is passed on to voters for their decision in November.
In this Q&A, XBIZ spoke with Leue to find out more about the Oakland victory and learn about the next big fight for adult entertainment.
XBIZ: Being newly appointed as the executive director of FSC, what were some of the challenges of preparing for Oakland?
LEUE: Everyone is very passionate about the cause, but the greatest challenge was organizational as much as ideological. We had over 100 adult performers who wanted to come and speak, which meant organizing almost an entire plane load of them up from LAX to Oakland.
We had representatives from great organizations like the San Francisco AIDS Foundation, and the ACLU, and the St. James Infirmary and SWOP who are educated on the issues. We had to make sure the cameras and news crews were there to cover it, and that they understood the real nature of the regulations. I don't think I slept much the week prior, but it was worth it.
XBIZ: The Oakland meeting had the largest turnout of performers and producers ever for a regulatory hearing. How were you able to achieve such an impressive call to arms?
LEUE: We spent the last several months working with performers, producers and APAC to get out the word, and FSC helped people get their tickets. I think the downside of our success fighting AB1576 and other measures was that people sometimes assume we don't need their help.
For the Cal/OSHA hearing, we had to really stress that this was not only a danger, it was imminent. People think, "Oh, they aren't really going to make me wear goggles, are they?" Yes, they are. We shouted it from the rooftops and people came.
But we couldn't have done it without producers, who stopped shooting for a day to free up talent, and without the performers themselves — many of whom got up at 3 a.m. to drive to LAX, in time for a flight to Oakland. They were incredible.
XBIZ: When the Standards Board panelists went through the roll call, and adult eventually won, what was your initial reaction and thoughts?
LEUE: Disbelief, honestly. Listening to the board deliberate, it seemed like there were two wavering members. However, one of those two ended up voting "yes" on the regulations, so I assumed it would pass.
Luckily, we'd swayed one more vote that we hadn't counted on, and, of course, we all erupted. It was tremendously emotional. People were crying. I was crying. The performers finally felt like they were being listened to. It was incredible.
XBIZ: What are you hearing from performers and producers about the Oakland victory?
LEUE: They are tremendously energized. Don't get me wrong, we have a long road ahead of us. But the Cal/OSHA victory means we have the wind at our back. Leading up to this, many people were cynical. No one expected to win, because so often people discount what the adult industry says and is.
But when performers spoke up, they were heard. Now, everyone wants to get on board, and I'm so excited to be allowed to lead this and be part of this.
XBIZ: AHF head Michael Weinstein has vowed to come back with another Cal/OSHA proposal. What do you think he will try to gain the Standards Board’s support?
LEUE: Michael Weinstein is his own worst enemy. He really does not believe what performers tell him — he's stuck in this mindset that they're all dupes, being exploited by adult producers, with no control over their own bodies and no choices.
He wants condoms, dental dams, goggles and gloves in film because for him it is about educating the public with the same shame and fear based messaging that has failed the public for over three decades. This is not about performer health. So I think as long as he remains intractable, he's going to keep putting forth proposals that will harm performers in the name of his moral crusade.
I suspect he'll make some slight changes on the regulation to deal with medical reporting, but I think he's just thinking it was bad luck that it didn't pass that day. To be honest, it could have gone either way — but what is right prevailed because of the strength of our performers' voices, which is something he'll always underestimate. They are not like his minions that he pays with gift cards and free T-shirts, performers are educated, empowered and passionate about sexual pleasure, wellness and health.
XBIZ: What’s ahead with the California porn-condom ballot proposal?
LEUE: We're working hard to educate the public on what this measure is. We used the Cal/OSHA media, which was covered not only in California, but Japan and German and Switzerland and South Africa, to raise awareness about this idiotic and dangerous ballot initiative.
We're using the Cal/OSHA victory to build support with performers, allies, activists and educators, as well as to raise money for the huge fight ahead. The OSHA proposal was about condoms.
The ballot measure is about lawyers and stalkers dragging porn stars into court. And AHF can make hundreds of thousands of dollars off of the initiative. Voters will oppose this overreaching proposal. Voters don't want our courts filled with frivolous lawsuits that will cost taxpayers $100 million.
XBIZ: What are some of your takeaways from this victory?
LEUE: Mainly, that we can prevail. We are going to be drastically outspent by AHF, and our battle for awareness is uphill. But we can do it, so long as we all work toward a common goal, and do it with everything we have.
Never forget that we were once an illegal industry, and that every right we have today has been hard fought. We are no strangers to battle, and while the road ahead is tough, we're going to fight and we are going to win.