In the 1990s, there were major breakthroughs in both the treatment of and education about the HIV pandemic. Because of anti-viral drugs, HIV is no longer the death sentence it once was; and because of the tremendous mainstream media focus on the disease in the 1990s, there was an educated population who practiced safe sex. The result was infection rates fell significantly.
Over the last 15 years, however, complacency has set in, resulting in a younger generation ill-informed about the dangers and realities of the disease. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention stated the ignorance of young Americans on the realities of HIV and AIDS is “shocking”, “astonishing” and “just unacceptable.” Last year, half of the 50,000 Americans infected with the disease were under the age of 30.
The UFC and The Center are now picking a fight with that ignorance by launching an awareness campaign called “Protect Yourself At All Times."
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, who is openly HIV-positive after contracting the virus 27 years ago, added: “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.”
Protect Yourself At All Times has two key messages:
1. Get tested; know your status
2. Protect yourself with safe sex practices
UFC Hall of Famer Forrest Griffin will serve as a spokesman 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.”
The ongoing Protect Yourself At All Times campaign will be rolled out during the lead-up to World AIDS Day on December 1 and will include:
- The UFC will fully support The Center’s LGBTQ+ program, which offers free HIV tests to the wider Las Vegas community
- UFC athletes and personalities visiting centers nationwide who offer free HIV tests and educational initiatives
- The UFC will be creating public service announcements which will be distributed across its powerful media platforms
- The UFC will also be donating promotional inventory to the campaign, beginning with a full-page ad in next month’s UFC 360 magazine, and ask its partners to donate similar space to raise issue awareness.
For more information on The Center’s efforts with LGBTQ+ visit www.lgbtqpoz.org.