I recently returned from the 2017 IAS Conference on HIV Science, where I had been invited to speak about adult industry’s testing protocols, pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) and the rights of sex workers.
Over the course of several days, I engaged with researchers, scientists, doctors and journalists from major international HIV organizations. Many were surprised to discover that the adult industry now leads the way in progressive sexual health strategies.
If we remain an insular industry, it allows other people — those who either don’t like us or don’t understand us — to shape the narrative.
To some, a trip to Paris to discuss HIV might seem a bit beyond the scope of the FSC executive director. (For what it’s worth, the trip was financed not by member dues, but by the personal contributions of the FSC Board of Directors, and I crashed on a friend’s sofa.)
What the FSC board understood was that having representation at the conference, is part of a larger strategy of engaging with people, groups, organizations outside our traditional comfort zone.
For much of our existence, the adult industry operated in the shadows of mainstream culture. After all, most media coverage of us was negative, most legislation was misguided, and police and politicians were to be feared, not trusted or talked with. We kept our collective heads low, and tried not to attract too much attention.
But in the past few years, we learned we can win when we engage. From pleasure product regulation and lube manufacture, to Cal/OSHA and Prop 60, to sex work decriminalization and HIV policy, we’ve learned that we’re stronger and more effective when we demand a seat at the table. Over the next year, I want us to be at more and different tables.
If we remain an insular industry, it allows other people — those who either don’t like us or don’t understand us — to shape the narrative. When we remain insular, it means that potential allies never hear our point of view. When we remain insular, it means that the media never sees the bigger picture, and that the public doesn’t understand the broader principles. At FSC, I want to make our collective voice heard, and I want to make it loud.
Take, for example, the battle over counterfeit pleasure products. Every day, on sites like Amazon, individual companies are forced to battle inferior, but similarly marked and shaped products. When individual companies are forced to battle on their own, it sounds like a routine battle over market-share and intellectual property — not much of priority for a $100 billion company.
When we speak as an organization, however, the debate can shift to the dangers of low-quality counterfeits, and Amazon’s complicity. When we speak as an organization, we can bring in experts who can talk about the risks of selling inferior materials, and analysis from legal experts who can attest to repercussions of trademark law. We are hoping to have our first meeting with Amazon in October.
Those audiences can be hard to get for a single adult company. They’re hard to get even for an organization like the FSC. But when we approach someone — be it Amazon, or the Los Angeles Times Editorial Board, or Chase Bank with other community partners, it can make those introductions easier, and helps them understand the struggles we face in context. We’re not a laugh line, we’re a legitimate enterprise and a legal industry. You might think that regulators, bankers, politicians and journalists have researched all the relevant facts when attempting to regulate, legislate or monitor. Unfortunately, that’s not true — they’re as overwhelmed with work as we are. Over and over in the Cal/OSHA battle, we saw that regulators were in the dark about the actualities of production, or the intricacies of the testing system.
Sometimes what we think is bias is actually just lack of information, or access to bad information. Our presence fixes that.
But even beyond the specific issues our industry faces, it’s important to speak up and be part of the global community of activism. In the past year, we’ve drafted or signed on to over a dozen policy statements and opposition letters, on a diverse range of issues from sex worker rights and HIV policy to human trafficking and net neutrality. In fact, you can see the full list on the policy statement portion of the FSC website.
Not only are we standing up for what’s right, we’re building coalitions with people who will stand with us when we’re attacked. We’re broadening minds, and encouraging dialogue, and demystifying the adult industry. When we engage, we remove stigma and we open up the door to the more important work.
I recently attended a luncheon for the ACLU, and heard people speak on issues of discrimination, censorship, privacy, human rights, and reproductive freedom. The gathering included people of all faiths, focused on a diverse range of issues, and brought together people from across the state.
Not all of them necessarily understood the adult industry when I first spoke, but it became quickly apparent to them that our issues — whether it be porn blocks, condom legislation or adult ad bans on Facebook and Google Adwords — were part of the same constellation of fights they were facing. In those moments, they discovered that our battles should be their battles as well.
The adult industry has a unique and important contribution to the marketplace of ideas, and we have strength and expertise to lend. I aim to make this type of outreach the hallmark of my tenure as executive director and these relationships my legacy.
Eric Paul Leue is the executive director of the Free Speech Coalition, campaign manager for Californians Against Worker Harassment, a member of the Los Angeles County Commission on HIV and a former director of sexual health and advocacy at Kink.com.