About 20 AIDS activists picketed outside Larry Flynt's Beverly Hills office Thursday, beseeching the porn king to set a good example for the industry by making all of his actors practice safe sex during filming.
Carrying signs proclaiming: "Latex now, Larry" and waving giant replicas of rainbow-hued condoms, the protesters shouted: "Hey, hey, ho, ho, unsafe porn has got to go!"
"Today we are here to demand that Larry Flynt do the right thing," said Michael Weinstein, president of AIDS Healthcare Foundation, at a news conference in front of the towering glass headquarters for the Flynt media empire on Wilshire Boulevard. "As the most prominent member of the adult film community ... if he were to agree to use condoms in his films, we believe the rest of the industry would follow."
Through a representative, Flynt declined to comment.
But in an April opinion piece in The Times, he asserted that the industry should not have a condom rule, echoing his belief -- common among adult film producers -- that safe-sex productions are harmful to profits.
"Market testing -- and conventional wisdom -- tells us that films that feature actors wearing condoms don't sell," Flynt wrote.
Before a recent HIV outbreak, when four sex film performers were infected on the job and many producers temporarily halted filming, only 17% of actors used condoms, according to the Adult Industry Medical Health Care Foundation, a nonprofit group that conducts HIV testing for the industry. Since production resumed last month, 23% of actors use condoms.
Some companies say they let actors decide whether to use condoms. But performers, most of whom are hired by the scene, say that when they insist on practicing safe sex, they are rarely rehired.
"There's no one I've spoken to in the industry who thinks 'condom-optional' means anything," Weinstein said. "That [term] is just a silly, minimal fig leaf."
If Flynt and other producers continue eschewing condoms, it will only increase the political pressure to crack down on them, activists said.
This year, Assemblyman Tim Leslie (R-Tahoe City) proposed legislation that would, among other things, require condoms during the filming of sex movies. Public health officials have repeatedly called for mandatory condom use in porn productions.
At a recent Assembly labor committee hearing, an ACLU lawyer said such a law would probably be deemed constitutional because worker health and safety needs would probably trump any free-speech concerns.
Rebekka Armstrong, a former Playboy Playmate who is now HIV positive, said porn filmmakers should find more ways to make safe sex appear alluring.
"We think condoms are cool," she said.