The Condom Battle Is Far From Over

On Feb. 18, Cal/OSHA’s Standards Board voted down new regulations for adult film performers. These regulations not only included mandatory condoms, but latex dental dams to protect the mouth and eye protection such as goggles. This was a huge victory for adult performers, and the adult industry in general. However, the battle is far from over.

In November, we face a ballot initiative, the California Condoms in Pornographic Films Act, that would not only mandate condoms for adult performers, but give 34 million people in California the right to sue performers, producers, distributors, cam models and more if they don’t see a visible condom … or just don’t like what they see. AHF stands to make hundreds of thousands of dollars off of it. This leaves everyone in the industry vulnerable. That’s not public health; that’s private wealth.

The AIDS Healthcare Foundation stands to make hundreds of thousands of dollars off of the [California Condoms in Pornographic Films Act if the ballot measure passes]. This leaves everyone in the industry vulnerable. That’s not public health; that’s private wealth.

The ballot initiative also appoints Michael Weinstein, the controversial head of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, as the state porn czar, giving him access to taxpayer resources to file complaints and lawsuits against every production in the state of California.

If you’ve been keeping your head low and hoping he won’t come after you, I have bad news: He’s in a position to hire a full-time team to go after every production in California.

Luckily, there is a way forward, and the successes of the Cal/OSHA vote will be central to our strategy leading up to the statewide vote in November. Here’s why we won at Cal/OSHA, and how we’ll use that to fight for our rights in November:

Performers Came Together

Over 100 adult performers came out for the Cal/OSHA meeting in Oakland, many skipping paid shooting days in order to fly out of LAX at dawn for a long, arduous, nerve-wracking day. The Cal/OSHA board heard over five hours of testimony from performers: amateurs and contract stars, men and women, gay and straight, condom-only and condom-optional, cis and trans.

They heard from married couples who cam for extra money, and industry vets with medical and public health training. They saw that the regulations, which seemed like a no-brainer to civilians, were actually quite complicated. If you were there and heard them deliberate, it was clear that the voices of adult performers turned a yes vote into a no.

The Cal/OSHA vote showed performers the power they have, and energized them for the battle ahead. A vote that was supposed to be a shoo-in for regulators turned into an upset, and in the months ahead we’ll be working to grow and amplify performers voices.

Coalition Partners Proved Key

While performers brought the heart and the real-world implications to the discussion, it was a broad coalition of doctors, scientists, legal experts, opposition letters and representatives from organizations like the San Francisco AIDS Foundation, the ACLU, the Transgender Law Center and the Los Angeles Commission on HIV (of which I am a member), who helped give a regulatory framework for understanding performers concerns. What’s more, they also worked to counteract the claims (and assumed legitimacy) of AHF.

Now that we’ve won the first important victory, you can expect more coalition partners, as well as political figures, to come in from the sidelines and come out against the ballot initiative.

General Public Began Listening

Most importantly, the Cal/OSHA vote brought awareness to an issue that many in the general public haven’t thought much about: on-set safety for adult performers. Those of us who work in the industry know the value of the PASS system, our protocols, self-regulated bloodborne pathogen plan, and how important performer health is to the overall health of the industry.

We know about 14-day testing, and the dangers of underground production. We also know the failure rates of condoms, and the opposition they face from performers. But for the generic voter, the Cal/OSHA meeting marked the first time that many of them heard any of these issues.

The Cal/OSHA vote attracted worldwide coverage, and TV, radio and print coverage across the state. We do not have the vast resources of a billion-dollar nonprofit like AHF, so we need to use our own media awareness to build a guerilla campaign to help change the narrative. In politics, this is called earned media —and it’s why Trump is able to run “so well” while spending so little. The politics of the presidential race aside, it’s a strategy we intend to use going forward.

How You Can Help

Many of you have written or called in the past few weeks asking how you can support the fight. As executive director of the Free Speech Coalition, I would be remiss if I didn’t ask you to donate, become members, and join the @FSCarmy on Twitter.

If we are to win, it’s not just going to be a difficult fight, it’s also a hugely expensive one. My great thanks go out to the many producers who have supported the cause, and lent their resources already, as well as the countless performers who donated money to enable others to attend the Cal/OSHA hearing too. The hearing alone required more than 50 plane tickets to Oakland, in addition to lawyers, consultants, lobbyists, media production over the year prior to build the infrastructure. If we’re to win this, we’ll be facing more in the future.

But money isn’t the only thing that we need. We need resources, from web design and hosting, to mailing lists and social media accounts. While the Cal/OSHA battle focused on convincing six government regulators, the ballot initiative message needs to reach tens of millions of registered voters, across the political spectrum.

FSC Board Chair Jeffrey Douglas has called this ballot initiative the gravest threat to the survival of the industry in over forty years, and he’s right. If the ballot initiative passes, few producers — even ones who use condoms — could continue to shoot and/or distribute in California. Weinstein himself has already filed suit against companies that shoot oral only, and has expressed his displeasure for the industry in general. Don’t fool yourself that this is just about condoms.

And beyond Weinstein we face regulatory challenges on multiple fronts, from Google censorship of adult advertising, to restrictions on retail zoning, to regulation of lubricants that requires animal testing.

America’s war on sex may be the most prominent battle, but it isn’t the only one, nor will it be the last. What I do hope is that it will be a proving ground for our mettle, and a victory strategy that we can use to take on the legions of legislators and moralists who would strip us of our constitutional right of free speech, and therefore limit what we can say, do and produce.

I invite you all to join us in this battle, and to build a Free Speech Coalition that is strong, resilient and powerful. United we stand, divided we fall. This is indeed: “All for one, and one for all.”

Eric Paul Leue is the executive director of the Free Speech Coalition.