In a hotel with a pool in Studio City, hidden behind the Hollywood Hills, people from the porn industry gathered on a late sunny afternoon this week. Their meeting was labelled “No on prop 60”, an initiative put to the vote in California on November 8th that would require performers to use condoms and producers to pay for vaccinations and testing, among other measures meant to protect workers from sexually transmitted infections.
California, especially this area north of Los Angeles called the San Fernando Valley, is known for being the capital of pornography, and some sources say it generates more cash than Hollywood, a disputed and hard-to-prove fact. According to the writer Ogi Ogas, quoted by Forbes, “about 13% of web searches were for erotic content” from July 2009 to July 2010. Not as much as I thought, but still quite a lot.
So I got in, thinking it was public. It turned out it wasn’t so I stayed, but “undercover”. Indeed, after a few minutes of discussing the initiative and how to fight it, Karen Stagliano from the production company Evil Angel received a text. Somebody in the room was a “yes on prop 60” supporter. So she took the microphone to inform the room it was a private meeting and unmask the intruder. Let’s mention that this was an event organized by an organization called the Free Speech Coalition.
A blond woman that goes by the stage name Phyllisha Anne stood up, confessing “that would be me!” while replying she wanted to hear what they had to say. Mostly “lies”, she says upon leaving. In spite of a few persons who took her side arguing that she was “a kid of the family, one of us”, she got harshly kicked out. After that, the speakers, including Steven Hirsch from Vivid Entertainment and Karen and John Stagliano from Evil Angel, explained why it was necessary to vote “no” and subtly passed the message that they needed some money. So far, proponents of prop 60 have the advantage: they raised more than 4 million dollars, essentially put down by the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, the organization behind the initiative. And their message is heard. According to the polls, about 55% of likely voters are for it.
“No on prop 60” people, supported by the Free Speech Coalition, have raised between 300.000 and 400.000 dollars. During the meeting, they spoke of 328.0000 dollars. Surprisingly, the biggest donors, they say, are California Democrats (who brought in 109.000 dollars). Republicans in comparison gave 10.000 dollars, according to a chart shown during the meeting.
Knowing their limited financial impact, they asked the crowd to “go for outreach” and speak to the media, reminding them that “most are on our side”. Major newspapers like the Los Angeles Times, the San Francisco Chronicle or the Sacramento Bee expressed their opposition to the initiative.
The LA Times wrote that “the proposition would, in effect, make every Californian a potential condom cop by both mandating condom use and creating a private right of action so that any resident who spots a violation in a pornographic film shot in the state could sue and collect cash from the producers and purveyors if they prevail in court”. “This is an extreme approach”, the daily concludes.
To Phyllisha Anne, there are still reasons to support it : it’s about getting workers in that industry the rights other workers obtained in any other sector. She’s been a porn actress for 17 years, she says, and this year, she created a union, the International Entertainment Adult Union, with two other performers. Just like the Screen Actors Guild represent “regular” Hollywood actors, she adds.
In an open letter to their peers, Phyllisha and her two friends explain that because of the changes the industry faces, mainly induced by the Internet new content and players, “we now find ourselves out of jobs, with no social security, no health insurance, and not realizing how quickly retirement would come”. Their issues range from health insurance plans to royalties. One thing that neither the pro or the anti-initiative people spoke about is the physical violence that has become the core of the sex business.