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A Former Cruise Ship Magician, Derrick Burts Couldn’t Make HIV Disappear Now He’s Lobbying in Sacramento for Condoms

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I thought Diane Duke said Patient#4 was a ghost and didn’t exist.

from – Derrick Burts was a newly minted porn actor in Los Angeles, using the screen names Derrick Cameron and Cameron Reid in a handful of productions, when he learned he was infected with HIV.

“I was desperately shocked. You hear about it but you don’t think it will actually happen to you. It was frightening and confusing.” He turned to the industry for help. “I thought they would have my best interests. But they didn’t.”

Three years after his diagnosis and his going public as “Patient Zeta” Burts is now a campaigner for mandatory condoms in porn, making him a hero to some, a turncoat to others.

A new HIV outbreak has infected three – possibly four – performers, triggering a moratorium on production and renewed pressure for California to mandate condom use. “I knew it was going to happen again. It was a ticking time bomb,” said Burts, 26.

The stakes are high. Porn generates an estimated $14bn worldwide, much of it filmed in the San Fernando valley. Advocates and opponents of the condom law trade accusations of spin and deceit.

Burts was in Sacramento on Wednesday this week to lobby state lawmakers over a proposal, known as AB640, which would expand a law mandating condom use passed by voters in Los Angeles county last year.

Many pornographers opposed the law in the belief consumers disliked scenes with condoms, he said. “They think condoms hit the fantasy and hurt sales. The industry is money-hungry. It doesn’t care about the health and safety of performers.”

The adult entertainment industry’s advocacy group, the Free Speech Coalition, rejected the accusations, saying regular screenings protected performers and that HIV infections stemmed from off-set behaviour.

“People have personal lives. All the evidence suggests that these infections were not workplace-related,” said Diane Duke, the group’s CEO. Porn production would likely resume next week depending on medical advice, she said.

“We’re not against condoms. We’re against condoms being mandatory. Our performers prefer not to use condoms.”

With bright lights and prolonged periods of penetration condoms aggravated friction, causing discomfort for women and making it more difficult for men to maintain erections, said Duke. “And yes, consumers seem to prefer non-condom movies.”

A 29-year-old female actor who uses the screen name Cameron Bay was the first to go public in August, saying she tested positive after a routine HIV test, prompting the Free Speech Coalition to declare a week-long moratorium while other actors were tested.

On 3 September, soon after the moratorium was lifted, a male performer who uses the screen name Rod Daily and has been romantically linked to Bay announced via Twitter he had the virus.

The Free Speech Coalition reinstated the moratorium on 6 September when an industry-affiliated doctor said a third performer had tested positive.

The Aids Healthcare Foundation, an advocacy group which has led the campaign for mandatory condoms, said a fourth performer told it he had tested positive. “I can confirm that a male performer came to us and indicated that he had become infected with HIV,” said Michael Weinstein, the group’s president. He declined to elaborate, citing confidentiality.

Duke said the fourth case was rumoured to be a former performer who quit the industry four years ago and that adding him to the list was “posturing” by the Aids group. “We’re sexy and they crave attention.”

Many productions had moved out of LA county to San Francisco and Nevada to escape the condom law and more would flee California if the state followed suit, said Duke.

One producer, Dan Leal, said his company Immoral Productions had stayed and started shooting condom-only scenes seven months ago. It was tougher on performers, he said, because condoms were designed for “normal sex” which tended to last just a few minutes compared to porn sex which could last over an hour. A single scene could require eight to 10 condoms. “It’s physically very taxing on the guys and the girls.”

Leal’s revenues have not dipped but he opposes the condom law and says regular screening and on-set tests were a better safeguard.

Burts, the former performer, disputed that there had been an exodus out of the LA area, saying the industry had largely stayed put and defied the law because local health authorities had proved unable or unwilling to monitor fleeting shoots in multiple locations.

He said the industry, facing financial stress from free internet content, was shortening HIV-related moratoriums from a month after his diagnosis to a week after Cameron Bay’s positive test. “They lifted it way too early. They clearly jumped the gun.”

In his brief screen career Burts, a former cruise ship magician, starred in gay and straight porn films with and without condoms.

He said he was taking medication and receiving support from his girlfriend, friends and family. He now works as a paid advocate for the Aids Healthcare Foundation and is also a stage magician in Hollywood. His health remains good. “You can’t let the virus determine your life.”


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