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California's Prop 60 would make it legal to harass porn stars

Voters will decide whether to deputize the public to police porn.
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Shaen Adey, Getty Images

California voters will decide this week if they will be able to become online condom cops, with the ability to out porn performers and get paid for it. That's the bottom line of Proposition 60, whose proponents were busted this week by San Jose Mercury News fact-checkers who caught pro-60 commercials lying about the measure's privacy implications.

Meanwhile, porn performers and sex workers, and a long list of medical and political organizations, oppose the proposition.

On the surface, The Condoms in Pornographic Films Initiative seems like a yes-or-no decision about requiring California porn performers to wear condoms while at work, as it were. To the ordinary voter, this seems like a no-brainer: Of course we want these people to have safer sex.

But there are really three different key components here. One is a sector of workers whose health and well-being rely on a workplace-specific set of sexual safety measures -- ones that work. Next, at the heart of Prop 60's campaign, is a sex-negative HIV organization run by "the most hated man in the [AIDS] business." And finally, a proposition that formalizes the online harassment of sex workers -- allowing online trolls to be digital vigilantes, granting them the power to punish sex workers by fining and outing them.

In a statement from the Free Speech Coalition, Chief Executive Diane Duke said, "If the proposed initiative were to pass, adult performers would immediately be targeted by stalkers and profiteers, who would use the initiatives' sue-a-performer provision to harass and extort adult performers." She added:, "This is an unconscionable initiative that would take a legal and safe industry and push its performers into the shadows."

Online witch hunts

cyber sex depicted by woman removing underwear in front of computer

Proposition 60, known as California's "condoms in porn" measure, allows any state resident to sue adult performers and companies when the viewer believes condoms haven't been used in a porn scene. In the interest of attracting condom cops, the measure gives anyone successfully filing such a lawsuit a cut of the fees imposed on performers -- 25% of any fine assessed.

The initiative intentionally incentivizes a cyber lynch mob of anti-porn-ers, stalkers, upset family members and profiteers combing through clip sites/blogs and filing lawsuits. For performers, this means that their private names, contact information and health records become part of the public record through discovery. It's the legal equivalent of the "Porn Wikileaks" exposure of performers' names, medical records and addresses a few years ago.

California law already requires adult film productions to follow its blood-borne-pathogen standards. In addition, in accordance with the adult industry's program for sexual wellness, actors are required to provide clean HIV and STD test results every 14 days (at their own expense; average test cost is around $200). Actors without verified test results are not allowed to work.

The measure comes from the not-for-profit Los Angeles-based AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF) sub-organization, FAIR (For Adult Industry Responsibility, which actually has nothing to do with California's adult industry, and everything to do with anti-porn zealots). Leading the Proposition 60 charge is AHF President Michael Weinstein, whose campaigning on the matter has a fervor much like the UK's legally problematic, anti-internet-porn hysteria. When Proposition 60 made it onto the ballot, Weinstein told the press it would save the children from the dangers of internet porn, while he promulgated the image of diseased porn stars.

Weinstein has been keen to tell press: "The No. 1 way that young people learn about sex in this day and age is pornography on the internet. In porn, real people are having real sex. They're transmitting actual diseases, and the audience knows it. It's not like a fictional Hollywood film."

Adult performers have united against Prop 60, but AHF and Weinstein aren't interested in what they have to say. On several occasions, porn-industry groups have attempted to publicly speak with or debate Weinstein about condoms on the set and Prop 60, only to be avoided at every turn.

San Francisco Board of Supervisors member Scott Weiner said in a Medium op-ed, "This ballot measure, of course, isn't about public health, since it won't have any public-health benefit. Rather, it's about a moralistic, ideological crusade that will do great damage to this California industry and to the health of its employees. It needs to be defeated."

Adult performers routinely face harassment and financial discrimination. Prop 60 legally incentivizes a digital mob into enacting sexual-behavior witch hunts. It ensures that porn performers will live in fear, similar to the fear felt by women whose stalkers and trolls publish their names and addresses online. Because it facilitates filing suit against producers and performers, it ensures their legal names and addresses will be published in the public record.

It's easy to see the chilling effect at work here. This is the opposite of the open internet's free-speech values. In California, porn is legal to make as an act of free speech. Under Proposition 60, a specific type of speech is made so vulnerable to lawsuits that no one can even talk about it without opening themselves to liability.

As we pointed out in October, Prop 60 is set to be a litigation minefield. The way the initiative is written, any representation of actual sex is subject to the law, even if you don't see penetration. This means that not only are "adult films" themselves subject to lawsuits and fines, but includes any representation of that scene -- banner ads, still images, clips, even if they're just on blogs that write about it.

The list of organizations opposing Prop 60 is astonishing. Both the California Democratic and Republican parties formally oppose it, as does the California Libertarian Party. AIDS Project Los Angeles and the San Francisco AIDS Foundation hate it. The San Francisco Medical Society and the International Entertainment Adult Union both oppose it and fought in court to have their names removed as supporters when AHF wrongly listed them as formally endorsing the measure.

"The most hated man in the AIDS business"

Porn Film Condoms

None of the organizations opposing Prop 60 believe its mission is one of public health, which only adds to growing speculation about AHF's increasingly bizarre role on the global HIV-prevention stage. The New York Times last November called Weinstein "the most hated man in the AIDS business."

And make no mistake, AIDS is a big business. Nowhere is that more evident than in Weinstein and AHF's other war against PrEP (a method for preventing HIV) and the success of its key component, a new drug called Truvada.

From the minute Truvada became available two years ago, AHF was the prevention drug's most vocal and misleading critic. Along with numerous ad campaigns claiming that Truvada didn't work, Weinstein derisively called it "a party drug" that people take to enjoy reckless sex. In contrast, the National Institutes of Health states Truvada is up to 99 percent effective in preventing HIV when taken daily.

James Loduca, VP for public affairs at the San Francisco AIDS Foundation, likens Weinstein to a "climate-change denialist."

If so, then he's one with a stunning amount of resources for promulgating that denial. The Los Angeles-based AHF is the world's largest AIDS nongovernmental organization (NGO), with more than 630,000 patients spanning 36 countries and a $1.3 billion budget. It raked in $696,135,524 in pharmacy revenue in 2014 alone.

In addition to all that pharmacy revenue, AHF's financial statements include the accounts of a suborganization it runs, called the HIV Immunotherapeutics Institute (formerly the AHF Pharmacy Network). Its long-term mission is to "render current antiretroviral medications obsolete," which explains AHF and Weinstein's war against antiretroviral drug Truvada. The AIDS Healthcare Foundation would rather shame people out of having sex than rely on an advancement of medicine.

Last year, the AHF ran an inflammatory Los Angeles billboard and bus-ad campaign depicting users of dating apps Tinder and Grindr as shadowy characters that spread STDs. The billboard's imagery labeled Tinder's sex-date partner as "chlamydia" and Grindr's potential hookup as "gonorrhea."

In response to public backlash against the billboards, Weinstein told The Guardian, "There are consequences to hooking up."

The only thing all three of AHF's campaigns -- Truvada, condoms in porn, online hookups -- seem to have in common is the notion that promiscuous people are spreading disease, vis-a-vis the evils of modern technology.

And in Weinstein's perverse war on porn in California, that technology is the weapon he'd like to turn against his immoral nemeses, the performers, at apparently any cost.

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