April 29, 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 CDPH’s 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 person’s 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.
Posted by bernie at April 29, 2006 11:20 AM
Wow. What an important story. Thanks for covering this.
Posted by: Keith Boykin at April 29, 2006 12:34 PM
So sad... very well put, Bernie
Posted by: rocka at April 29, 2006 02:36 PM
Thank you for posting this story about Cocoboyz. A friend sent it to me in an email. I was contacted by them a couple of months ago about appearing on their site. For some reason there was a delay in scheduling me. Sometimes the Lord works in mysterious ways I tell you.
I have searched the internet for more information about this story, but I have found nothing further. I feel that as long as we have Black/Latino companies run by white men, we will continue to hear tragic stories such as these. I do not know the people that own Cocoboyz, but I have a feeling that the models they use are seen simply as a commodities, their only function being to bring in revenue and get them off. Just because someone chooses to work in the field of Adult Entertainment, doesn't mean that they are any less of a person or any less deserving of respect. I find this story very sad indeed.
I would also like to bring it to everyone's attention that Cocoboyz works in several large cities along the east coast and in the south. Even if their production in Chicago is shut down, they can still operate in other cities, so more than likely nothing will change. I would love to hear some of the models and the owners account.
Posted by: Altirique at April 29, 2006 06:12 PM
Altirique, thanks for adding your unique perspective on this.
Posted by: Bernie at April 29, 2006 06:38 PM
Thanks for posting this, Bernie. I recently found out about the situation but haven't formalized a response. It's a multi-leveled situation that should spark serious conversation in our respective communities. But we shall see.
Posted by: j. brotherlove at April 29, 2006 06:54 PM
I was wondering how much play this story would get...
Posted by: Mad Professah at April 29, 2006 07:10 PM