The Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), and the Gay and Lesbian Community Center of Souther Nevada (The Center), have teamed up to raise awareness of HIV for people under 30.
The two companies have launched the awareness campaign, titled Protect Yoursel At All Times. It aims to encourage young people to get tested, in order to know their HIV status, and to practice safe sex.
The campaign will be rolled out in the lead up to World Aids Day on 1 December, and includes offering HIV tests to the wider Las Vegas community, as the UFC fully supports the Center’s LGBT+ programme.
UFC athletes and personalities will visit centres across the US which offer free HIV tests and educational initiatives. Public service announcements will be distributed across many media platforms, and promotional inventory will be donated by the UFC, including a full page ad in next month’s UFC 360 magazine.
Partners of the UFC will be encouraged to do the same.
UFC COO Ike Lawrence Epstein said: “As someone who grew up in the 1980s and saw the virus beaten back with education in the 1990s, I was stunned to learn from our friends at The Center that HIV is still having such a dramatic impact on young people. No other sport reaches the under 35 demographic like the UFC does and the UFC felt a duty to try and do something about this situation. It gives me great pride to announce the UFC will be partnering with The Center, LBGTQ+ and other organizations for a project we are calling “Protect Yourself At All Times”. This will be a local, national and ultimately international campaign designed to educate the UFC’s vast core audience of under 35s about the realities of HIV.”
Robert (“Bob”) Elkins, CEO of The Center, said: “HIV stopped being a ‘gay issue’ long ago but, unfortunately, it has now very much become a ‘young issue’. The jarring fact is that young gay men are becoming infected at a much higher rate. The lack of both awareness and accessible information for teenagers and young adults is truly frightening. It’s like the 1990s never happened in terms of education and public awareness. In the UFC, we have the perfect partner to fight this ignorance, and we thank them for joining us in this battle.”
Elkins continued: “When I first found I was HIV positive, my friends and family thought it was a death sentence. But I wouldn’t accept that and started anti-retroviral treatment which I’ve continued ever since. Today, my viral load is virtually undetectable, thanks to my doctors and the meds. But through education and medical advances we began to fight back against the disease. Living with HIV is manageable, but we cannot allow advancements to take away our focus on preventing new infections through public awareness and education.”
UFC Hall of Famer Forrest Griffin will act as a spokesperson for the campaign. He said: “I had 15 fights in the UFC Octagon during my career, and before each and every one of them, I had a HIV test. I’m encouraging everybody to show themselves and their partners the same respect I showed my opponents by getting tested and protecting themselves at all times.”
UFC No.5 ranked women’s bantamweight Liz Carmouche, who is also a spokesperson, added: “There’s a feeling of invincibility that comes with being young, with being fit and the prime of your life. But I learned when I was in the US Marines just like I’ve learned as a UFC fighter, no-one is invincible, and that you have to project yourself at all times.”