NPR: 'Sex Worker Permit' Bill Sponsor Doubles Down, Invokes 'Human Trafficking'

PASADENA, Calif. — The public radio news-commentary show “AirTalk,” produced by NPR’s Southern California affiliate KPCC, presented a segment this morning concerning the controversial “Sex Worker Permit” State bill, AB2389, introduced by Assemblyperson Cristina Garcia last month.

“We’ll hear the pros and cons,” said host Larry Mantle, about “a proposed bill that would create a state registry of adult performers.”

Mantle referred to AB2839 to “a new bill in Sacramento that is being modified.”

“The initial version of the bill had a registry and [adult performers] would have to be fingerprinted,” Mantle explained, but “the process is being changed.”

The “AirTalk” segment featured four guests: Assemblyperson Garcia, the bill’s sponsor (introduced as “Democrat of Bell Gardens”); the woman who brought the language of the bill to Garcia, a retired performer who goes by both her legal name Amanda Gullesserian and her former performer name “Phyllisha Anne,” and serves as secretary and spokesperson for the International Entertainment Adult Union (IEAU); Alana Evans, president of the Adult Performers Actors Guild (APAG), who has led the fight against AB2389; and Antonia Crane, sex worker, writer, activist and a leader of the exotic dancers activist group Soldiers of the Pole.

None of the guests were allowed to debate each other over AB2389.

Garcia’s All-Purpose Answer: “Human Trafficking”

Mantle started by asking Assemblyperson Garcia about her intentions with the bill which she amended last Thursday after a disastrous reception by the adult community to its original text

“AB2389 is trying to find a way that employees know their rights and they are protected,” Garcia began, stressing the “safety” aspect of the bill. “It’s very early in the process and we really hope that all stakeholders come to the table,” she added.

Asked about the state registry and fingerprinting requirements on the original bill, Garcia equivocated.

“We already amended that out. I inherited this process; along the way, the language came to me,” she told Mantle.

Garcia did not “inherit the process.” Her office acknowledged to XBIZ that the IEAU’s Gullesserian brought the bill draft to her and Garcia agreed to introduce it as a bill.

Her office also admitted that Garcia has no particular expertise in sex work issues and that the language of the bill had not been read carefully before it was introduced three weeks ago.

Gullesserian admitted she had single-handedly drafted the bill, “shopped” it to legislators and found Garcia, who was glad to sponsor it. Gullesserian sent a self-justificatory letter to union members last week which included her apology to the entire industry.

Garcia convinced Assemblyperson Lorena Gonzalez — known to sex workers and all California freelancers for her controversial AB5 labor bill — to co-sponsor the “Sex Worker Permit” bill.

Gonzalez, through a rep, repeatedly told XBIZ last week that she disavowed the language of AB2389 and had began the process to withdraw her name from the bill.

During the KPCC segment, Garcia stuck to her guns and would not entertain the idea of withdrawing AB2389, explaining that after last week’s amendments, the bill now deals with “basic training about your rights, some basic training to identify human trafficking and so forth.”

She then brought up, as her office did to XBIZ last week, that she has sponsored other bills mandating “human trafficking” training for “hotel workers.”

Mantle pressed Garcia about the different types of sex work and the vague definition provided by AB2389. “I mean if it’s not legal, that’s a separate space,” Garcia answered. “We are discussing what the definition of performers is dancers, web performers, porn stars.”

Garcia shifted gears then to talk about including “people behind the scenes” in the bill, and once again, returned to what now appears to be the main reason she refuses to withdraw a bill: “We want to give people behind the scenes meaningful training to fight human trafficking.”

“We want to identify who can be the folks that can help us sound the alarm when there are any problems,” she added, confirming the suspicions of adult performers that AB2389 is a law enforcement bill disguised as a workers’ safety bill.

The Mother of AB2389 Speaks

Mantle then introduced Gullesserian, union secretary of the IEAU, who “proposed this bill.”

“Our standpoint, or my standpoint, it’s [that AB2389 mandates] a safety course,” Gullesserian explained, “so that everybody can be in the same place.”

Mantle reasonably asked why her union would not be the institution to do that, as opposed to the state.

Gullesserian replied with what sounded like a dismal view of sex workers’ sense of self-care and enterprise.

“If you have the option to be educated or not be educated,” she told KPCC, arguing for state involvement, “most of the time you won’t have the time or the will, the willingness, to do that.”

APAG’s Alana Evans responded to the words of the secretary’s “Mother Union” (APAG is a chapter of IEAU, though both leaders are experienced a growing rift over the AB2389 debacle).

“We as a group, APAG, and our performers, oppose the bill because a lot of that background already exists,” Evans explained, before pointing to “an entire area on the APAG website devoted to information and resources for adult performers.

Evans mentioned partnerships and initiatives with Pineapple Support, “which directs performers to mental health resources,” the Free Speech Coalition (FSC), producers and the industry.

Evans highlighted the FSC’s Inspire mentorship program as an example of an industry-self-started available resource.

“[AB2389] is an unnecessary thing for the government to get involved in,” Evans added, before tallying up the annual cost to California taxpayers to $468,000 dollars, or $1.1M if a new set of amendments Gullesserian has recently proposed were to be adopted.

“That’s over $1M to have people do something I already do,” said Evans.

Finally, Evans replied to Gullesserian’s comment about sex workers’ ignorance being the product of “lack of time, will or willingness.”

“Performers are 100 percent looking for those resources,” Evans said.

“A Money Grab Dressed Up As a Safety Issue”

As Mantle went to a break, he asked listeners to call with their opinion about “legal sex work, for lack of a better term, and what do you think about the state being involved.”

After the break, Evans was asked about APAG’s process if a performer reveals they felt pressured on a shoot to perform acts they didn’t want to do.

“We have stepped in situations where this has occurred,” Evans told Mantle. “We have a lawyer, James Felton, who works for our union for free. We have filed complaints and performers have reached settlements with the companies.”

“We have created such an incredible report system, online, by phone, or via website, that we are able to help any time there’s an issue,” Evans added.

The segment’s final guest was Antonia Crane, introduced as “a stripper and a sex worker for 26 years and a leader of  Soldiers of Pole, a California exotic dancers union.”

Asked about whether her group thought the state should be more involved in their work, Crane was unequivocal and succinct. “‘Role for the state?’ I’m with Alana. Kill the bill,” she said. “This is a money grab dressed up as a safety issue.”

Crane added that it was “demeaning and insulting to think that we need safety training,” especially if the language reinforces stigma. “We don’t want registering or policing,” Crane concluded.

Assemblyperson Garcia listened to this criticism and told Mantle she was “hearing from folks in the industry.”

“The commentary has been productive and I welcome it,” she said. “The industry should not be stigmatized, should be respected.”

“But,” she added, “there is abuse. And we want to make sure that everyone is aware of their rights and know where to reach out for training.”

“I do not want to create a system in a way that people’s privacy is violated,” she insisted.

The single caller that KPCC put through was from a man named “Tristan in Altadena,” who claimed to have been a performer and director until 2014.

“I don’t want the state to have any involvement,” Tristan opined.

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