Until recently, the majority of gay adult production companies have not required HIV/STD testing.
Condom-only studios address the situation by adopting a safe sex practice while performers are on the set, ostensibly eliminating the need for testing or the disclosure of a model’s HIV status.
Bareback companies have operated by a system of sero-sorting — pairing positive-with-positive or negative-with-negative performers, with the majority of these studios requiring the model to declare his status as opposed to providing documentation of current HIV/STD test results.
By contrast, HDK’s new policy is groundbreaking.
“It’s a decision that we felt we had to come up with, and we think it’s an important one,” HDK founder Bill Gardner told XBIZ. “It’s something that we talked about for a long time — and we thought this was the best way to do it.
“We’re a bareback company, yet we made the decision that we’re going to test our models and sero-sort, and we’ll only put models together that are aware of their condition and that we are aware of the particular health conditions and the risk of any type of infection,” Gardner added. “We think that’s the responsible thing to do, if you’re going to make bareback films. I think the responsible thing for the entire gay industry to do is to test and to not ever discriminate against a model because of his status.”
According to Gardner, the decision was influenced by several factors including the proliferation of bareback studios, especially those based outside the U.S., where HIV/STD education and resources are limited.
“We are alarmed and shocked at the proliferation of new bareback studios,” Gardner said. “Especially those from overseas, who are using increasingly younger models without providing any counseling or information regarding STD transmission to these models. It appears as if these studios care little for the health and safety of their models.”
The action from HDK was inspired also by a collaboration with industry trade association Free Speech Coalition (FSC) Executive Director Diane Duke who had approached Gardner to discuss the development of HIV/STD testing protocol for the gay adult industry.
“I talked to several gay companies about many different issues, but this is one that definitely comes up a lot,” Duke told XBIZ. “We’ve listened to the issues and talked frankly about what we, as industry, can do to come together, to make sure that we are providing best practices and good business practices, to make sure that we have a healthy industry.”
Duke emphasized that the role of the FSC is not a regulatory one, “but rather one that provides information and resources to assist adult businesses to make responsible decisions for themselves, the industry and industry professionals. We applaud Bill and HDK's willingness to participate in this discussion and to implement policies and practices that protect performers at Hot Desert Knights. We hope to facilitate similar discussions within and among other adult entertainment businesses.”
Duke was responsible for putting Gardner in touch with AIM and its founder, Dr. Sharon Mitchell. The nonprofit developed the testing protocol for the heterosexual side of the adult industry, which requires active performers to test monthly and manages the distribution of medical information to various producers, as to a performer’s HIV/STD status. The organization was started after an HIV/AIDS outbreak in 1998, when several performers contracted the virus, apparently from on-set sexual contact.
“Myself and the AIM Healthcare Foundation are extremely proud of HDK and Mr. Bill Gardner for taking this ground breaking step in the area of HIV/STD prevention education and screening,” Mitchell said.
“AIM is enthusiastic about this relationship and is available in all fifty States,” she added. “AIM has been providing the adult industry HIV/STD screening, medications and counseling for over a decade, and are delighted to be serving the gay industry in body, mind, emotion and spirit.”
Gardner has stated that he will require a full panel test for STDs including HIV/AIDS, gonorrhea, syphilis, chlamydia and hepatitis A, B and C. The company is in the process of changing paperwork so that models must agree to be tested by AIM, either at one of the clinic locations in Los Angeles or through contracted clinics that are located throughout the country.
The testing protocol will also vary from the established procedure at AIM in terms of disclosure of information. Heterosexual performers are disallowed from performing if they become HIV-positive, whereas a gay performer’s career is not necessarily ended due to a positive diagnosis.
This difference is the cause for sensitivity issues around the process of disclosing medical information.
Gardner has worked with AIM to guarantee that any performer tested to work for HDK will be assured that his medical information is shared only with the studio and models that will be performing in a scene together.
However, if more gay studios decide to implement a system of STD testing in the future, Gardner said, it is possible that a network of studios might be formed that would share performers’ medical information.
“We are happy to take the lead as the first bareback studio to provide testing and know that by doing so we are providing an environment of safer sex for all of our talent,” Gardner said.
“Sexually transmitted diseases, other than HIV, can cause serious health problems for the talent in our industry and many STDs can be acquired by the various sex acts performed in front of the camera other than anal sex,” he added. “For that reason, we urge all gay studios to consider testing all models for STDs if they truly wish to provide a safer sex work environment.”
All Boys Distribution owner Rob Ragan, who distributes HDK exclusively in the U.S., commented on difficult issues that face gay industry, and the division between condom-only and bareback studios, and said, “I think it's both admirable, as well sad, that Bill and Hot Desert Knights have to go this far, from a public standpoint, to prove that they care about their models as much as they do. It's always bothered me that Bill is the easy target for advocators of condom use in film because he's the most well known.
“Good for Bill and HDK for standing up and putting their money where their mouth is,” Ragan added. “Now hopefully people will start worrying more about the outside threats to us all rather than bicker amongst themselves.”