Canoga Park, Calif – In the past few years, the adult industry has seen a rise in “outings’ of adult performers and other adult industry workers, often with the intent to harm the person’s personal or professional life. We see it most frequently on social media, or on blogs; other times it can be an email to law enforcement or a job or family members or Facebook.
Several years ago, we witnessed the grossest example when identifying information of thousands of adult performers, including real names and addresses was posted online. But the truth is these sometimes life-threatening ‘outings,’ whether they’re the work of a stalker, an ex-lover or a rival, have become all too common. And just as commonly, the defense of the “outing’ is free speech. As an organization dedicated to free speech, we thought it was time to address the issue.
The adult entertainment industry has long been at the forefront of the struggle for freedom of speech. It has also been instrumental in pressing for full protection of personal autonomy — the right of each of us to live as we please, in peace. At the Free Speech Coalition, we are proud of our heritage; and we always know that we fight for real rights for real people. We have seen the power of speech to change the world; and we have seen our speech help to protect and enhance personal autonomy. That is why we think it is important, from time to time, to reflect on the values and the purposes which free expression serves and promotes.
In almost every situation, each individual has the legal right to disseminate truthful information to those who want to hear or see it. This is as it should be. The Free Speech Coalition continues to fight for that right — pressing our points in the public sphere and, when absolutely necessary, litigating to protect and expand those rights. This is not to say that all constitutionally protected expression is beyond criticism. Happily, there is no contradiction between defending the right of the Westboro Baptist Church followers to disseminate their hateful and reactionary speech and denouncing that speech itself as — hateful and reactionary.
There is a place, too, to criticize speech — even constitutionally protected speech — within our industry when it violates an individual’s personal autonomy by threatening the personal security that makes participation in the adult entertainment industry—or any social movement — possible for real people. Just as the First Amendment recognizes the value of truthful speech, it also recognizes the practical need for many who participate in controversial movements to avoid recrimination and retaliation by remaining anonymous or by using pseudonyms. This is why the United States Supreme Court protects the right of leafleters to disseminate anonymous handbills — someone pressing an unpopular cause need not sign his or her name. And when, in the thick of the civil rights movement, southern governments sought disclosure of the NAACP’s membership list, the Court protected the privacy of the members. Even today, the Free Speech Coalition litigates against the federal government without revealing our membership list.
When it comes to our own identities, we must all bear in mind the world we live in. Many of us are fortunate enough that we can afford to be open about our connection with the adult entertainment industry and our advocacy of the freedoms it promotes. But many of us are not. Each of us, then, is entitled to make our own decision about how we identify ourselves to the world — how much of our identities and the details of our lives other people will know. Only by respecting this individual right can we ensure that others will be willing to stand with us and work with us — and that they will be safe in doing so. Free speech has consequences. Revealing private information about those we know in the adult entertainment industry — information which an individual has chosen to keep private — risks making it impossible for us to build the kind of social movement we need to defend ourselves. It risks ruining lives which have been devoted to our work and our cause. In some cases, it may risk consequences more serious than we know or care to imagine. In a world which is still — at some times and in some places—viciously hostile to us, we all need to respect every individual’s choice to participate without revealing our legal names or other private matters about our lives. And when people sometimes forget the need for that respect, it is no compromise with free speech to criticize them for that. Because free speech really does have consequences. Use it, but use it wisely.
— Reed Lee, attorney and FSC Board of Directors member