Ultimate Fighting Championship COO Ike Lawrence Epstein discusses their new partnership for HIV awareness with the Gay and Lesbian Center of Southern Nevada, during The Center’s 19th annual Honorarium on Oct. 19. UFC fighters Liz Carmouche and Forrest Griffin, as well as The Center CEO Bob Elkins look on.
A Las Vegas-based mixed martial arts company with a history of its fighters, and even top management, using gay slurs announced their partnership with Las Vegas’ gay and lesbian center in an HIV awareness campaign for young audiences.
Ultimate Fighting Championship representatives announced the project at the 19th annual Honorarium ceremony for the Gay and Lesbian Center of Southern Nevada on Oct. 19 at The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas. The Center awarded the UFC the Corporation of the Year.
UFC Chief Operating Officer Ike Lawrence Epstein accepted the award, along with UFC fighters Forrest Griffin and Liz Carmouche, one of the first openly lesbian athletes in the organization. UFC used their acceptance speech to announce their “Protect Yourself At All Times” campaign in partnership with the Center and the LGBTQ+ campaign.
Epstein spoke about having a misguided belief that the work of educating the young about HIV was done.
“I was wrong,” Epstein said. “The stats that I got, they just blew me away.”
Epstein said he learned the biggest group affected by HIV was young people, who he said see 1,000 new infections each week.
It just so happens, he said, “Our demographic is young people.”
Bob Elkins, the new chief executive officer of The Center, said “HIV stopped being a ‘gay issue’ long ago but, unfortunately, it has now very much become a ‘young issue’.”
UFC is putting together a series of public service announcements and promised to promote it nationally through their fights and media partners. UFC personalities will visit centers of free HIV testing and safer-sex education nationwide.
“We’re a Las Vegas company,” Epstein said. “That’s certainly one of the reasons why, when the opportunity to become involved with the Center was presented to us, we jumped at it.”
The Las Vegas Culinary Workers Union and the Lambda Business Association publicly criticized the Center for choosing UFC, pointing out the use of homophobic and sexist slurs by UFC employees and representatives over the years—including Griffin, who has been a source of controversy for offensive posts on Twitter.
“We are proud of Forrest’s involvement with The Center and the LGBTQ community,” Epstein later wrote in an email. “He has personally given his time and resources, even in a non-official UFC capacity, to promote equality for a community that is vital to the fabric of Las Vegas.”
Earlier this year UFC fighter Nate Diaz was suspended for calling another fighter “the biggest fag in the world,” and UFC fighter Matt Mitrione was suspended and fined in April after a transphobic rant about transgender fighter Fallon Fox. Mitrione publicly apologized last month.
“The UFC has a code of conduct similar to other major sports leagues such as the NFL. Breaches of the code are punishable by fine, a requirement to do remedial work and – in more serious instances – termination of an athlete’s contract to compete in the UFC,” Epstein wrote. “The UFC’s Code of Conduct is not just about punishing offensive behavior though; it is also about changing the culture of athletes to be more tolerant and respectful.”
Roughly 400 people attended to celebrate the Center’s 19th anniversary with food, drinks and entertainment. The Center also honored community members with their annual awards.
Center spokesman Ryan Marquardt said the Center estimates it raised $150,000 during the event, up 60 percent from last year.
During the ceremony Barbara Molasky was honored as Person of the Year, and Ron Quinn was named Volunteer of the Year. The event featured Elkins introducing The Center’s new Qmmunity Advocate of the Year award, given to E! talk show host Ross Mathews.
“I’m proud to be a part of it,” Mathews said.
Before the ceremony Mathews spoke about his love of penny slots, Chippendales and the growing visibility of LGBT personalities in mainstream media.
“I started on TV 12 years ago, and it was a totally different landscape,” Matthews said. “When I step back from it a little bit, I think, ‘Oh, hey, maybe it is something’.”
Elkins spoke at great length about his background and his ideas for the Center.
“I believe my mission here is to ensure the Center’s future by engaging our donors, our sponsors, volunteers, civic leaders and families and friends,” Elkins said.
Elkins praised the Center’s staff and expressed his eagerness to guide the Center in raising funds and starting new programs.
“Together we can leverage the unique competitive advantages of Las Vegas with an already strong tradition of philanthropy and commitment to public service,” he said. CL