Proposition 60 Makes All Californians Porn Critics

AIDS Healthcare Foundation-sponsored initiative seeks to mandate condom use in adult films

When is safe sex not the safe bet? According to the porn industry, when it threatens the livelihood of some of California’s most vulnerable citizens: adult film performers.

California voters have a long menu of propositions to vote on this Tuesday, but the most unusual might be Proposition 60. If passed, it would require porn actors to wear condoms during scenes filmed in California, with financial penalties for non-compliant performers and producers. Moreover, it has a provision in which any California citizen could sue if he or she observed a film shot without visible condoms, and that person would be entitled to a share of the damages if he prevailed in court — even if they did not suffer any harm.

Chanel Preston, a veteran performer, said that’s by far the scariest part of the measure.

“This leaves us open to crazy anti-porn zealots,” she said in an interview earlier this year. “People trying to shut down the industry.”

Aside from that, the state acknowledges the proposition is likely to be a financial loser, according to the official California voter guide.

“Likely reduction of state and local tax revenues of several million dollars annually,” the guide said. “Increased state spending that could exceed $1 million annually on regulation, partially offset by new fees.”

Proposition 60’s main backer and financier, AIDS Healthcare Foundation President Michael Weinstein, doesn’t dispute that filming has gone underground, but in multiple interviews, he rejected the adult industry’s claim that it was reasonably well-regulated to begin with.

In an interview late last year, Weinstein advised Californians not to take the porn industry’s advice on public health, even though the industry hasn’t had a confirmed HIV transmission on a California shoot since 2004. And in an NPR interview last week, Weinstein defended his decision not to engage with people in the industry — a point of frustration for many performers.

“I’m not going to put myself in a position of debating people where all they do is call me names,” he said.

The Free Speech Coalition, the adult industry’s trade group, has led its efforts in marshaling opposition to the law, including the formation of a political action committee: Californians Against Worker Harrassment.

But it’s not just performers who have come out against the law recently. California’s Republican Party and Democratic Party don’t agree on much — especially in this election — but they’ve both come out against Prop 60.

And while the “Yes on 60” bloc has a handful of endorsements — mostly from health-related groups, “No on 60” has pretty much every major California newspaper, both political parties and a laundry list of celebrities, industry people and LGBT groups on its side.

On Sept. 28, the Los Angeles Times weighed in, publishing a strongly worded editorial that backed up the Free Speech Coalition’s claims, with the headline: “Heavy-handed Proposition 60 would deputize every Californian as a condom cop.”

The Times called Proposition 60 “an extreme approach — and demonstrably counterproductive.” The paper elaborated on its argument, drawing a parallel through a similar 2012 law, Measure B, that mandated condom use on adult films in Los Angeles County. The paper figured that measure wouldn’t do much to actually enforce condom use — just drive filming to more welcoming locales.

“The Times editorial board opposed Measure B because we thought it was unlikely to increase condom use but would instead drive the industry underground or out of town,” the editorial board wrote. “And that is exactly what happened.”

Several industry insiders can vouch for that. Penthouse CEO Kelly Holland, a veteran adult film director, said performers simply fly to Nevada or Florida to shoot for a few days.

And other than a handful of performers who support the proposition, the industry has largely coalesced around the proposition, launching an official hashtag – #DontHarassCA – Twitter avatars, and protests including a handful of major porn sites going dark last month. Tuesday, they get to find out if it worked.

Porn may be about creating a fantasy world, but the law has very real consequences for performers — and they’re fighting back.

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