On a late sunny afternoon this week, major people from the porn industry gathered in a hotel with a pool and palm trees located behind the Hollywood Hills, in Studio City, California. 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 global 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 magazine, “about 13% of web searches were for erotic content” from July 2009 to July 2010.
With the tip of a porn actress, I got in this meeting, thinking it was public, at least sort of. 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 – which distributes Rocco Siffredi’s films in the US – received a text. Somebody in the room was denounced as a “yes on prop 60” supporter. Stagliano took the microphone to inform the room that 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 lobby working for the porn industry in Sacramento.
A blond woman that goes by the stage name Phyllisha Anne stood up, confessing : “that would be me!” The actress explained that she wanted to hear what they had to say. Mostly “lies”, she said upon leaving, being left with no choice. Indeed, in spite of a few persons who took her side arguing that she was “a kid of the family, one of us”, she got bluntly kicked out.
After that incident, the speakers, including Steven Hirsch from Vivid Entertainment and Karen and John Stagliano from Evil Angel, elaborated on the reasons why it was necessary to vote “no” and said that they needed some money to pass the message around. Because so far, proponents of prop 60 have got 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 seems to be heard. According to the polls, about 55% of likely voters are in favor of it.
“No on prop 60” people, supported by the Free Speech Coalition, have raised between 300.000 and 400.000 dollars, according to the press. During the meeting, they mentioned 328.000 dollars. Quite surprisingly, the biggest donors, they said, are California Democrats, who brought in 109.000 dollars. Republicans, in comparison, gave 10.000 dollars, according to a chart they showed. Religious vs liberal ideas are probably still influential, even when it comes to health and safety issues.
Anyway, aware of their limited financial means, the industry people 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 indeed expressed their opposition to this 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, opposing a witch hunt against pornographers.
But to Phyllisha Anne, it’s not about hunting people down, it’s about getting workers of that industry the rights that other workers obtained in any other sector. She’s been a porn actress for 17 years, and in order to lead that fight, she created this year a union, the International Entertainment Adult Union, with two other performers. Just like the Screen Actors Guild represent “regular” Hollywood actors, she says.
In an open letter to their peers, Phyllisha and her two « coworkers » explain that because of the changes the industry faces, mainly induced by the Internet new content and global 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 officially range from health insurance plans to royalties on their past productions, and a bit more unofficially to the extreme violence now common in porn while paradoxically more available to every one. One thing that neither the pro or the anti-initiative supporters are really talking about, during these elections.