On Nov. 8, we had one of the most momentous — and to political observers, improbable — victories in the history of our industry. We defeated, by popular vote, a purportedly progressive measure in a very progressive state, against an opponent who had more than 10 times our budget, the apparent moral high ground, an endless stockpile of scare tactics and emotional arguments. And, as of just a month ago, an overwhelming lead in the polls.
And yet, pornographers won. Not by parliamentary tricks, or a well-placed friend, or legislative luck, but by the popular vote in a eight-percentage-point margin. We convinced 54 percent of voters to side with pornographers and sex workers. Let that sink in.
The adult industry is one of the most diverse and forward-thinking work forces in the world. What we face under a Trump administration is the loss of both our revenue, our rights, our safety and our dignity.
I’m writing this just days after the election, and we’ll be doing a deeper dive into the numbers later, thinking retrospectively about how our industry was able to pull off such an incredible upset.
What we do know is that the unity we showed was our greatest and most invaluable asset. I want to thank each and every one who lent their voice or supported the campaign with the funds and resources needed to secure its defeat.
Now we need to talk about our future. Our defeat of Prop 60 on Nov. 8 was not the only political upset of this election.
Unfortunately, the coming political realignment in Washington does not bode nearly as well for us, either as an industry or a community. Freedom of speech, freedom of expression and freedom of existence may soon be under fire bigly.
Like many of you, I have wide-ranging personal and political concerns about the president-elect and a unified Republican federal government. (In California we were able to forge a unique coalition of Republicans, Democrats and Libertarians against Prop 60 — but nationally, the trend is very different.)
Regardless of your political orientation, everyone in the adult industry should be concerned about what’s on the horizon politically, including:
- We now have a federal government controlled by a national party which believes the availability of adult entertainment constitutes “a public health crisis that is destroying the lives of millions.”
- The president-elect has pledged to “aggressively uphold federal laws” regarding obscenity. The pledge states the Trump does not believe the obscene material is protected by the First Amendment, and that obscenity laws have not been adequately enforced by previous administrations. It also links porn to trafficking, child exploitation and “deforming the development of young viewers.”
- Rudy Giuliani, a likely contender for attorney general in a Trump administration, led the crackdown against adult entertainment in New York’s Times Square, nearly eliminating adult retail outlets, movie theaters and topless clubs from the city.
- Ed Meese, the attorney general who led the Reagan’s crackdown on pornography, will be part of Trump’s transition team.
- Domestic policy for the Trump transition team is being led by Ken Blackwell, of the Family Research Council. The FRC believes that pornography is a “major threat to marriage, family, children and individual happiness.” It believes porn is addictive, causes rape and sexual perversion and has fought for outright bans on pornography, similar to what exists now for child pornography.
And that’s just obscenity. The FRC also believes that abstinence is the only appropriate stance for sex ed (if taught at all), that homosexuality is harmful to both individuals and society and should be cured.
Trump (and members of the current national Republican party, too numerous to mention) have called for the overturning of Roe v. Wade, and for the punishment of women who have abortions. And Vice President-elect Mike Pence has called for the removal of the birth control mandate, meaning insurance companies could refuse to cover it.
The Affordable Care Act, which helped many in our industry secure coverage for the first time, has been listed as a Day 1 priority. This could result in hundreds if not thousands of adult performers losing their health insurance.
This also means that important tools for HIV prevention, like the protocol PrEP, currently covered by many ACA plans, would become financially impossible for many adult performers. For many in the community, testing and other STI-prevention strategies could also cost more.
Protections for LGBTQ people, from marriage rights to accommodations for transgender people, could be stripped in the first few months of a Trump administration, leaving performers in those communities vulnerable.
We have also seen Trump express his interest in suing or investigating media that opposes him. From parody videos to industry editorials, we could be looking at threats beyond obscenity.
In January, in the face of Cal/OSHA regulations and Prop 60, FSC Board Chair Jeffrey Douglas said the adult industry faced “the gravest threat to free speech since the Nixon administration.”
It may turn out to be a gross understatement — the clouds that are gathering are unlike anything we’ve seen since the legalization of adult material.
We have one of the most diverse and forward-thinking workforces in the world. What we face under a Trump administration is the loss of both our revenue, our rights, our safety and our dignity.
Many of us in the industry — myself included — were not around for the obscenity busts of the 1970s, when sets were routinely raided or mail-order obscenity busts of the 1980s, when adult distributors were put into federal prison, sometimes for years, or run out of the country.
I hope this doesn’t happen. I hope I’m being hyperbolic. But if you hope that Trump is a secret social moderate who only pays lip service to issues like pornography and a woman’s right to choose, you’ve got remarkably little do go on these days.
And if you don’t think a crackdown can happen — if you think porn is unblockable, or that no one would stand for it, look at China or Turkey or Iran … or the U.K., which recently agreed to a default block for adult content on the four largest ISPs.
It can happen.
Which is why our next battle, over the Cal/OSHA regs, is so critical. Over the next few months, Cal/OSHA will write new regulations for the adult industry.
This will mark the first time that the adult industry has been included in the discussion — as will AHF. Michael Weinstein has already expressed that in the wake of the Prop 60 defeat, he’ll turn his attention entirely to Cal/OSHA.
We need to bring all the firepower, passion and resources to this that we did to Prop 60. If we do, we can likely fight off another round of mandatory condoms, goggles and gloves.
If not — and Cal/OSHA passes mandatory barrier regs — our hard work on Prop 60 becomes moot. The industry moves underground or out-of-state.
And this is crucial: while it is not illegal to produce adult film in other states, we enjoy specific and enumerated protections in California that are hard to replicate elsewhere.
In normal circumstances, this wouldn’t matter much. But with new political leadership in Washington D.C. hostile to adult content, any move underground — any shift into murkier legal waters — opens us to a host of prosecutions.
We must continue to fight for a safe, legal and free industry. With Prop 60, we beat back one of the most fearsome challenges our industry has faced.
But for the next four years, we may well be fighting for our lives — and that fight now begins Jan. 31 at a Cal/OSHA meeting.
Eric Paul Leue is the executive director of the Free Speech Coalition.