By the time Alana Evans made her formal foray into government advocacy, she had been an outspoken voice in the adult entertainment industry for years.
Evans, a California resident who became a sex worker in 1998 to support her family after her then-husband was injured on the job, went to Sacramento in 2014 to oppose a bill that would require all performers to wear condoms.
Sex workers have long opposed those kinds of regulations, calling them unnecessary and a gateway to the criminalization of their labor. The industry has stringent testing measures in place and a long track record of no HIV transmission.
“I’ve always kind of peppered my way in because I’ve always been this responsible person who can handle it under pressure,” Evans told The Hill in an interview. “There’s always just been little things that I would get involved in however I could help.”
The condom legislation from 2014 did not advance after stalling in committee.
After her experience working on the legislation with the Free Speech Coalition, an adult entertainment trade association, Evans decided she wanted to pursue organizing more seriously.
In 2016, she was elected vice president of the newly formed Adult Performance Artists Guild (APAG), then called the Adult Performers Actors Guild, which was under the umbrella of the International Entertainment Adult Union (IEAU).
APAG this year became the first federally recognized union for adult performers in the United States.
Evans chose to retire from sex work upon taking up that role after seeing how union involvement had been held over the heads of her predecessors who kept performing.
“Our president at the time was really being blackballed by people in the industry,” Evans explained.
The president, Sean Michaels, eventually was forced out after members said they felt he was pulling away from the union, and Evans was selected to lead the union in 2018.
Conflict with APAG’s parent union defined much of Evans’s early leadership tenure.
Evans and many of the sex workers represented by APAG felt that the IEAU was not aligned with their priorities, a simmering conflict that came to a head in early 2020.
“The breaking straw for us was when the mother union, behind our back, introduced legislation that would have forced licenses on our entire industry,” she said. “[They] used my name to get in front of legislators that I had been personally working with.”
The bill — A.B. 2389, introduced by Assembly Members Cristina Garcia (D) and Lorena Gonzalez (D) — would have forced performers to pay for violence and harassment training and become certified.
The education was already being provided by the guild, Evans argued, and the cost of licensing the product could have been a real challenge for many sex workers who already come from overexploited parts of society. The prospect of a state database of adult entertainers also alarmed sex worker groups.
The measure did not advance to the floor for a vote
APAG left the IEAU early this year and became recognized as an independent organization by the Labor Department in May.
The Hill has reached out to the IEAU for comment on the circumstances surrounding the separation. The international group on its website describes APAG as a “guild gone rogue” and working “under the hands” of the Free Speech Coalition.
APAG’s membership has ballooned since the split.
“We were stuck at around 300 members until we separated,” Evans said. “Then when we separated it went through the roof — we are now at 1,300 members.”
That growth has come at a crucial time for an industry that has been destabilized by the coronavirus pandemic.
Fear of transmission and the cost of frequent COVID-19 testing made in-studio work untenable for many. Forced shutdowns also wiped out large swaths of the stripping industry, which APAG represents as well.
APAG has played a key a role educating members on how to transition to online sex work on sites like OnlyFans. But relying on those platforms has added new precarities to the work.
OnlyFans last month announced that it would ban pornographic material, only to reverse its decision less than a week later.
OnlyFans was a “Tasmanian devil” that week, Evans said, “destroying everyone’s mental health.”
Many sex workers say they have had their content buried in searches or even fully removed from the internet, hurting their ability to advertise, despite adhering to social media platforms’ terms of service.
APAG maintains lines of communications with companies such as Instagram and Twitter to help creators get their content reuploaded.
Evans says the key to her success working with platforms is simple: Be nice.
“You get more with honey than you do with vinegar,” she explained. “We try to really navigate through these spaces as positively as possible because at the end of the day, I still want this company to work with us.”
Evans also works with lawmakers at the state and national level regarding bills that would affect the industry.
There has been more openness from lawmakers to hear from sex workers since the passage of the Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act, also referred to as SESTA after the original Senate bill, which was sold as a way to punish online platforms facilitating trafficking but has largely made the industry less safe.
APAG has organized nationally against bills like the Stop Internet Sexual Exploitation Act, introduced by Sens. Jeff MerkleyJeff MerkleyMore insidious power grab than one attempted Jan. 6? Colorado River cutbacks set stage for decade of drought politics Wyden asks White House for details on jet fuel shortage amid wildfire season MORE (D-Ore.) and Ben SasseBen SasseRomney blasts Biden over those left in Afghanistan: ‘Bring them home’ Progressives breathe sigh of relief after Afghan withdrawal Biden: ‘No deadline’ for Americans still in Afghanistan who want to leave MORE (R-Neb.) last year. The Senate did not take action on the legislation.
The union is not alone in this advocacy, collaborating with groups like the Free Speech Coalition.
“Alana is tenacious, and under her leadership APAG has been shockingly effective at getting legislators, financial institutions and tech giants to be responsive to issues faced by sex workers,” Mike Stabile, director of public affairs for the trade group, told The Hill via email.
“We’ve worked together closely over the past year, and I’m continually impressed with both what she knows, and who she knows,” he added. “With Alana it’s not about staking lofty ideological positions, it’s about getting things done.”
The core of Evans’s work, like most union leaders, remains negotiating contracts with companies and studios on behalf of workers.
The focus of those efforts has been on guaranteed pay, which has posed challenges for an industry made up of primarily of independent contractors.
Evans also wants to work toward a consistent health care framework across the industry. Many sex workers rely on the Affordable Care Act for insurance assistance.
In the face of all these challenges, Evans is steadfast in her commitment to keep advocating for sex worker rights.
“We’re still here,” she said. “No matter what, at the end of all of it, we’re still going to be here.”