Southern Nevada’s Gay and Lesbian Community (The Center) and the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) organization have partnered to raise awareness about HIV for individuals under the age of 30. The campaign will be called “Protect Yourself At All Times.”
The HIV epidemic of the 1980s led to more knowledge, treatment, and awareness in the 90s, but there is still much to be done in achieving a disease-free generation.
“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,” UFC COO Ike Lawrence Epstein said in a press release. “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.”
In explaining the program, Epstein said, “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.”
“HIV stopped being a ‘gay issue’ long ago but, unfortunately, it has now very much become a ‘young issue,’” said The Center’s CEO Robert Elkins in a press release. “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.”
According to The Center for Disease Control and Prevention, young adults are ignorant of the facts surrounding HIV, and approximately 5,000 members of the demographic have been affected.
“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,” Elkins said. “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.”
The main objectives of the “Protect Yourself at All Times” program are to encourage people to get tested, know their status, and to practice safe sex.
“I had 15 fights in the UFC Octagon during my career, and before each and every one of them, I had a HIV test,” said UFC Hall of Famer Forrest Griffin, who will serve as the campaign’s spokesperson. “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.”
The campaign will lead-up to World AIDS Day on December 1.
“There’s a feeling of invincibility that comes with being young, with being fit and the prime of your life,” UFC player Liz Carmouche said, who is another spokesperson for the campaign. “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 protect yourself at all times.”
The initiative will also be supporting free HIV testing. Notable athletes will be offering their knowledge through PSAs and promotional inventory in the UFC 360magazine.
For more information or to donate to the “Protect Yourself” campaign, visit the site here.