ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
This Election Day, California voters are being asked to decide whether actors in porn films should be required to wear condoms on set. It is Proposition 60 on this year's ballot. The man behind the measure is a controversial gay activist named Michael Weinstein. KQED's April Dembosky went to meet him.
APRIL DEMBOSKY, BYLINE: When Mike Stabile first moved to Los Angeles in 2011, he was struck by a billboard he saw along the freeway.
MIKE STABILE: It had, like, a line of cocaine and a - you know, a turned over shot glass.
DEMBOSKY: It said, you know why; get tested.
STABILE: I literally, you know, pull over the car and was like, oh, my God, like, what's going on? I was having a panic attack.
DEMBOSKY: The man behind the ad is the same man behind Prop 60, Michael Weinstein, president of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation. Another billboard the group backed showed two men in bed looking nervous.
STABILE: The billboard said, trust him - question mark.
DEMBOSKY: Stabile is gay and came of age during the height of the AIDS epidemic. He says ads like these play into the shame that ruled the '80s.
STABILE: Fear and stigma actually works against people getting tested.
DEMBOSKY: Stabile is now fighting Weinstein's prop 60. He says the measure is like the ads - heavy handed and moralistic. His main concern - if porn producers don't use condoms in films, any Californian can sue them.
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DEMBOSKY: If you ask Michael Weinstein, he says promoting condoms has become unfashionable.
MICHAEL WEINSTEIN: I was on a panel discussion, and one of the guys said, you know, you're acting like our mother telling us to wear our galoshes. And my reaction was, yeah, somebody needs to do that. I mean I'm not trying to win a popularity contest obviously.
DEMBOSKY: In some ways, Weinstein sees prop 60 as a venue for promoting condom use way beyond California.
WEINSTEIN: A lot of people get their sex education through these films, and I don't want young people to be educated that the only kind of sex that's hot is unsafe sex.
DEMBOSKY: Weinstein has long taken controversial positions, but he's often landed on the right side of history. In the '80s, he fought lawmakers in California who wanted to quarantine AIDS patients. When nurses were afraid to touch them, he helped set up a hospice. And when AIDS drug treatment came out, Weinstein risked bankrupting the foundation to provide the life-changing drugs to uninsured patients.
WEINSTEIN: We had a moral obligation to give them, and we paid for them. And those people lived.
DEMBOSKY: But he doesn't favor the latest drug innovation - PrEP, the daily pill that prevents people from contracting HIV. Weinstein is afraid it will make people reckless. He calls it a party drug.
WEINSTEIN: It's really a get-out-of-jail-free card.
DEMBOSKY: But many public health activists say PrEP is a gift from God.
COURTNEY MULHERN-PEARSON: It's not helpful to have, you know, one of the largest HIV organizations in the world trivializing it or downplaying its importance.
DEMBOSKY: Courtney Mulhern-Pearson is with the San Francisco AIDS Foundation. She says Weinstein's singular focus on condoms is outdated and unrealistic.
MULHERN-PEARSON: Condom fatigue is real, and I think that all of us are probably not realistic and not forthcoming about our condom use.
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UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Chanting) Where is Weinstein? Where is Weinstein? Where is Weinstein?
DEMBOSKY: Adult film performers say they prefer to rely on the industry's frequent STD testing protocol over condoms. Ela Darling says Weinstein is ignoring their concerns.
ELA DARLING: He will not hear us. He will not speak to us. But he's happy speaking for us. And that's the problem.
WEINSTEIN: I'm not in the habit of meeting with people who say I'm Hitler.
DEMBOSKY: Some of his opponents have called him the condom Nazi. Weinstein's old friend Sharon Raphael says Weinstein has never liked the limelight.
SHARON RAPHAEL: He's been hurt, you know? I know that it hurts him.
DEMBOSKY: But she says Weinstein never backs down, ever. For NPR News, I'm April Dembosky in Los Angeles.
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SHAPIRO: This story is part of a reporting partnership with NPR, KQED and Kaiser Health News.
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