Entries from April 2006 ↓

Porn, HIV and the Lives of Young Gay Men of Color

Warning: Some links refer to sexually explicit sites.

From Chicago comes disturbing news of unsafe health practices and exploitative working conditions involving a well-known gay Internet porn site that specializes in the use of Black and Latino models.

The Chicago Free Press reports that Department of Health officials there have slapped a cease and desist order on the owners of FlavaWorks.com, which operates a live sex website, CocoDorm.com, where these young men of color, typically between the ages of 18 and 24, engage in sexual acts that can be viewed by subscribers for a fee. FlavaWorks.com also produces videos and magazines. The activities include unprotected sex, and the Health Department claims the business has knowingly allowed the spread of HIV and other sexually-transmitted diseases.

Christopher Brown, assistant commissioner for HIV/AIDS/STD programs at CDPH, said health officials acted after uncovering credible evidence that models at FlavaWorks.com, which also operated CocoBoyz Dorm Room online, were HIV-positive, were engaging in unsafe sex practices and were spreading HIV, syphilis and gonorrhea through contact with individuals outside the business.

Brown said CDPHs initial involvement came in late December after HIV service providers called CDPH to express concerns that some of their clients could be seen on the website engaging in unsafe sex.

We also became aware of cases of HIV linked to some of the models, Brown said.

While the models are Black and Latino, the owner of the company, Phillip Bleicher, is White.

Brown said the business owner had been less than cooperative with city officials efforts to stop the spread of HIV and other diseases and get CocoBoyz models in for counseling, treatment and testing.

Our main concern was the dorm, Brown said. Our goal is to immediately look at the models, screen them and address their needs.

We had evidence and reports from what I would consider credible sources that there was HIV and STDs among the models at CocoBoyz dorm room, and unsafe sex could be viewed right there on the website, Brown said.

Equally distressing are reports centering around the conditions under which the young men worked. Most of them are reportedly at-risk youths, runaways, homeless and easily manipulated.

There are also allegations that the business used unusual labor contracts with its models, which, according to one source, at least bordered on illegal servitude. The 30-day contracts allegedly required the models to perform a certain number of sexual acts in exchange for a stipend. But, when the models tried to collect the stipends, they were told they were being charged for such things as food and bed linens, leaving them, in some cases, in debt rather than collecting money. They were then pressured to sign new contracts.

No one is discounting the role that pornography plays in the lives of many people. The worldwide adult entertainment industry generates more than $12 billion annually, so clearly a lot of us, myself included, consume our fair share.

But once again we are faced with the question, do the lives of gay men of color have any value beyond sexual objectification?

No one who produces porn should be allowed to exploit models, particularly young ones. No one should be allowed to knowingly put another persons life at risk of disease. That a White business owner was apparently dismissive of the needs and concerns of his young Black and Latino performers should be cause for alarm. It should also make consumers re-evaluate how we spend our dollars and force us to demand a greater measure of social responsibility on the part of producers.

A Blog on Blogging

A few questions for my fellow bloggers:

Why do you blog? For whom do you write? If you craft a particularly well-written entry and it doesnt get any comments, does that mean it was of little value? If a blog entry is written about some frivolous topic and it gets a lot of comments, does that make it a good entry?

My friend John at Js Theater wrote a piece in reaction to another blogger, Nubian. and her frustrations about the lack of responses to her more socially conscious pieces and an inability to break out and make a name for herself in the vast blogosphere.

Their comments are not unlike those Ive heard from other blogger friends trying hard to find their niche and carve out a place in a community that is growing by the thousands every day of the week.

I posed the rhetorical questions above because I think they are at the heart of this discussion and weigh on the minds of anyone who has been at this for any length of time.

I think there is a natural evolution to blogging. You start off with great enthusiasm and excitement, typically blogging a lot at the outset, maybe even every day. You start to get noticed because people leave comments and that feels good. Youre now part of a community. Then the burden of posting regularly starts to set in as well as the awareness that what you write is being read by lots of people you dont even know. Maybe you even get a few negative comments in reaction to what you write. Thats a bit jarring because now you realize not everybody thinks youre a genius. Its starting to seem like work now. You may even find that all your offline activities are geared around finding something interesting to write about. You may start to feel self-conscious and even start taking yourself a little too seriously, feeling as though you have to write or youll let my readers down. Man, what a stinky diaper that is!

It will evolve further to the point where you consider quitting, if the comments stop coming regularly. Now youre putting in all this work and those damn readers dont even appreciate it. Why do I even bother you might ask yourself.

Does any of this sound familiar?

I think its important to step back and gain perspective. I think some bloggers take themselves and what they do a little too seriously. It may be helpful to know there are an estimated 80,000 new blogs started every day, possibly as many as 50 million worldwide. They are as diverse and varied as the number of people who own them.

I find the concept of a famous blogger to be downright laughable. More likely its a shameless self-promoter who spends more time trying to get the attention of the mainstream media as he does blogging. The idea that anyone would want to try to keep up with these people is even more asinine.

I think a preoccupation with who or how many people are reading or commenting is also unhealthy. With so many blogs and only so many hours in a day, we should all probably be thankful that anyone takes time to read. And how many non-bloggers bother to read them? Are we a community of writer/readers unto ourselves? My gut tells me yes.

I say all this to say, does it really matter whos famous or not, who gets comments and who doesnt, who else is writing about the same things we are? Are we really competing with one another, or is that your imagination?

In answer to my own questions, I blog because I have thoughts in my head I want to get out. Writing them down helps me make sense of them. Consequently I write primarily for myself, although I recognize other people do read this. And because this blog is a reflection of my varied interests and thoughts at any given moment in time, some will be serious, some frivolous, but as long as I can finish it and post it, thats good enough for me.

If you stopped by and took the time to read this, thanks. If you care to comment, feel free. If not, thats cool too.

And Speaking of Blogs

I got tipped to a new one, Vidocity, that is using the webcast technology in an exciting way to provide updates on whats going on around NYC. I cant promise you Ill visit the site very often, but its the kind of stuff Id love to do if I had a budget. If youre still on dial-up, skip it.

Too Soon?

The Tribeca Film Festival opened tonight here in New York City. Created in 2002 by Jane Rosenthal and Robert De Niro, the mission of the festival is to enable the international film community and the general public to experience the power of film by redefining the film festival experience. The Tribeca Film Festival was founded in the wake of the terrorist attack of September 11, 2001 to celebrate New York City as a major filmmaking center and to contribute to the long-term recovery of lower Manhattan.

The major highlight of opening night festivities is the premiere of United 93, the controversial new film written, directed and produced by Paul Greengrass (Bloody Sunday, The Bourne Supremacy), that tells the story of the fourth highjacked airliner on 9/11, which unlike three earlier flights that were deliberately crashed into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon in Washington, DC, crash landed in a field in Pennsylvania, presumably by passengers who overtook their captors.

The film has been both much anticipated and in some quarters considered premature in retelling the story of events occurring on that date. Almost five years after the tragedy, some people are not quite ready to see any depictions, as evidenced by audience reaction in some theatres here in New York when trailers were shown. Movie-goers were visibly disturbed, some leaving theatres upset, complaining that they should have been warned of the subject matter.

While undoubtedly the story of 9/11 has been one filmmakers have been chomping at the bit to tell, waiting for the right moment when emotions have healed enough to show even fictionalized images, I am not convinced that time has arrived. Critics charge that filmmakers havent taken into consideration the feelings of families who lost loved ones. I contend they havent considered the still frazzled nerves of anyone who was affected that day.

Producers are storytellers as well as businessmen and while this is a legitimate story to tell, Im sure commercial considerations and the desire to strike while the iron is still hot was a major motivator for the timing of its release. But four and a half years is not enough time, particularly for those in the cities most closely associated with the attacks.

While I didnt lose anyone personally, I was close enough to witness the collapse of the North Tower with my own eyes, a memory forever seared into my brain. I had professional colleagues whose offices were in the Towers who narrowly escaped. I was with the masses of New Yorkers who walked home that day in heart-palpitating fear. I breathed in the smokey fumes from the crumbled ruins that wafted across the entire city for weeks afterwards. I remember the gut wrenching Have You Seen signs posted all over town by families of the missing, that as weeks and months passed, displayed the anguish of diminishing hopes.

With the recent release of audio tapes of 911 calls from people stranded in the Towers, the news media has been retelling the story. I havent wanted to watch or listen to those either. The images just rekindled the sorrow. I fear a full-length motion picture would be far too much to bare.

I dont fully understand those who argue we must tell this story. It was reality tv for those in distant cities and painful reality for those in the affected ones. Immediately following the attacks, President Bush and others told us to get back to life as normal. Life could never be normal again, and we never got a proper grieving period.

As I said then and many times since, I think those of us who were there were affected in ways we wont realize for years to come.

I respect the producers right to make the film, but I for one have no plans to see it.


A film I will look forward to seeing, when it is released, hopefully by Christmas, is Dirty Laundry, the second feature film written and directed by Maurice Jamal (The Ski Trip). He recently wrapped a four week shoot with stars Loretta Devine, Jenifer Lewis and Rockmond Dunbar. While the budget was modest, sources say the performances and production values will leave us impressed. Fingers are crossed for a distribution deal soon.

Who Got Game?

I dont get to watch much pro basketball, Im a Knicks fan. (ba dum pum)

But seriously folks, in these parts, the best NBA action is played on the west side of the Hudson River. The New Jersey Nets have once again made it to the NBA playoffs as winners of the Atlantic Division–but then, even teams with sub .500 records make the playoffs in the NBA. They began their first round, best 4-of-7 game series against the Central Division third place finisher, the Indiana Pacers, one of those teams right at .500.

A friend of mine, a native New Yorker who now makes his home in New Jersey (he actually bought one; you can afford to do that once you leave New York), got tickets to game one Sunday at the Continental Airlines Arena, which is across a wide parking lot from Giants Stadium, where I am told Jimmy Hoffa is not buried.

His employer, a large pharmaceutical company, has corporate season tickets and thus they get the hookup for great playoff seats. We were in section 1, a not bad location indeed, under one of the baskets. Good seats from which to see the game and people watch, although had it not been for the big screen on the scoreboard, we would have missed seeing Nets co-owner Jay-Z and his wife, whats-her-name.

Now even though I root for the Knicks, I do know a thing or two about basketball and being a New Yorker who hasnt yet abandoned the state, I found the fan behavior among our western neighbors to be quaint, to say the least. See, they have such customs as actively encouraging the fans to make noise, I mean it says so right on the scoreboard, with little videos of players telling the fans, Make Noise. UhmNew York sports fans never need to be told when to make noise. We just kinda follow the action and make the call ourselves. Call us impulsive.

They also have these Thunder Sticks, large cylindrical balloons that you blow up then clap together to make an annoyingly loud noise. Never seen those in New York either, although I wish I was the guy who invented them. He must have made a fortune. I hear tell theyre used in other sports and in other cities around the country. Cute.

Def Jam recording artist, Ne-Yo sang the national anthem and quite well I might add (he didnt do the R. Kelly version) and also performed So Sick during halftime. Lots of little suburban white kids in the courtside seats where he sat were asking for his autograph and to take pictures with him. Many of their parents however seemed unaware of who he was.

The game itself was close and exciting right up to the end. The Nets lost, but only by 2 points and I think this will be a close series the whole way. A couple of suspect calls went against them, they missed lots of free throws and were abysmal on the offensive boards. Nets forward Jason Collins is like a tree rooted to the floor. He doesnt rebound or look to score. Why is he out there?

It will be June before they finally crown the NBA Champion, so this was just one game in a long slow process. But it was fun to see real pro basketball played in the metropolitan area again.