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HIV-positive porn performer speaks out

Derrick Burts, 24, who tested positive for HIV in October after working in gay and straight porn films, says he now favors enforcing mandatory condom use in porn productions.

December 08, 2010|By Molly Hennessy-Fiske, Los Angeles Times

The adult film performer who tested HIV-positive at a San Fernando Valley clinic this fall spoke out for the first time Tuesday, calling for mandatory condom use in porn productions, improved testing for sexually transmitted disease and follow-up care for fellow performers.

Derrick Burts, 24, said he tested HIV-positive in October at the Adult Industry Medical Healthcare Foundation in Sherman Oaks after working in both gay and straight porn films for a few months. He had previously been identified only as Patient Zeta.

Producers of straight porn regularly check performers' test results using a database maintained by the clinic, known as AIM, to clear actors for work.

Burts, who performed in straight films as "Cameron Reid" and gay films as "Derek Chambers," said he was tested at the clinic Oct. 8, then received a panicked call from clinic staff the following afternoon, summoning him to the office.

When he got there, he said, clinic staff told him that he had tested HIV-positive. They wanted to perform a follow-up test and begin notifying performers he had worked with since his last negative test result Sept. 3. Those performers, he was told, would be placed on a quarantine list while they, too, were tested.

Burts said he gave clinic staff the names of about a dozen performers he had worked with in California and Florida in both gay and straight productions. The list included his girlfriend, who also works in the industry as a performer. He watched as clinic staff began scanning a performer database, notifying those he had named and placing them on a quarantine list.

The clinic has since said that none of the performers on its quarantine list tested positive. Burts confirmed that his girlfriend tested negative.

He said that when he returned to the clinic Oct. 23 to review the second test results, clinic staff told him that they had traced his HIV infection to someone he had performed a scene with whom they described to him as a "known positive."

Although straight porn performers must show negative HIV test results before filming, the gay porn industry does not have the same restrictions, although condom use is typically required.

Burts said he asked who the performer was and clinic staff told him they could not reveal the performer's name or gender due to patient confidentiality.

Clinic officials could not immediately be reached for comment Tuesday night. An attorney for the clinic was traveling outside the United States, according to an e-mail received from him earlier in the day.

Burts says he may have contracted the disease during a gay porn shoot in Florida. He said the performers used condoms during intercourse but not during oral sex.

Contrary to Burts' account of what he was told, clinic officials released a statement last month saying "Patient Zeta acquired the virus through private, personal activity."

"That's completely false," Burts said Tuesday. "There is no possible way. The only person I had sex with in my personal life was my girlfriend."

Before he left the clinic Oct. 23, Burts said clinic staff put him in touch with a doctor affiliated with the clinic and promised to arrange for his follow-up care.

Burts said no one followed up, and he felt neglected.

"AIM promised they would help me set up a doctor and get treatment," he said. "They did none of that."

Burts said AIM staff had warned him not to contact the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, whose officials have been among the clinic's chief critics. In frustration, Burts said he went to an AIDS Healthcare Foundation center in Los Angeles on Nov. 24 and saw a doctor, never identifying himself as Patient Zeta.

Pleased with the care he received at the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, Burts contacted the group's leaders last week, identified himself as Patient Zeta and said he wanted to speak out on their behalf and in favor of enforcing mandatory condom use in porn productions. Foundation officials have scheduled a news conference with Burts for 10 a.m. Wednesday.

"AIM likes to state that testing is enough. That's completely false," he said, noting that in the months before he tested positive for HIV, he had also contracted chlamydia, gonorrhea and herpes.

"It's very dangerous," he said of adult film work. "It should be required that you wear a condom on the set."

Burts, who grew up in Whittier and Hemet, graduated from Hemet High School and a hotel management school in Florida and worked as a hotel manager and cruise ship magician before becoming a porn performer for the money. He said he earned $200 to $800 for filming a straight scene and $1,000 to $2,000 for a gay scene.

Looking back, he said he wishes he had known more about the risks of contracting sexually transmitted diseases in the industry.

"Making $10,000 or $15,000 for porn isn't worth your life," he said. "Performers need to be educated."

Related:
Former porn star Darren James speaks out about latest HIV case
Porn actor with HIV didn't infect any other adult performer, clinic says
Porn industry clinic comes under fire for its handling of HIV case


molly.hennessy-fiske@latimes.com

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