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Anthony Birchak makes a statement with 'We Are All Fighters' T-shirt

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Anthony Birchak knows the fight business hasn't always provided the most welcoming environment for the LGBTQ community.

The UFC bantamweight competitor grew up in the diverse college town of Tucson, Arizona, where he was exposed to a wide array of people. And while he loves the sport of mixed martial arts, he was never comfortable with the stigma attached to gay people in some corners of a macho industry.

"Before I was a full-time fighter, I worked as a bartender downtown," said Birchak, who meets Dileno Lopes at Thursday's UFC Fight Night 90 in Las Vegas. "You meet people from all walks of life there, and you learn there is good in all people. My cousin Christina Gonzalez and her partner live out and proud lives and you should be free to be who you are, no matter what you do with your life."

With that in mind, Birchak is using his platform as a fighter to help make a statement during International Fight Week in Las Vegas, as he's been wearing Reebok's UFC "We Are All Fighters" T-shirt during fight-week events.

One hundred percent of the proceeds from the shirt, which will be sold at International Fight Week events and then be made available online, will benefit the Gay and Lesbian Center of Southern Nevada in Las Vegas, a community-based organization that  supports and promotes activities directed at furthering the well-being, positive image and human rights of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer community, its allies and low- to moderate- income residents in Southern Nevada.

Birchak says perceptions need to be changed one person at a time.

"There's still this idea out there that fighters aren't friendly to gay people, and it shouldn't be like that," Birchak said. "If you're a fighter, all that should matter is that you're able to fight, and if you're a fan, all that should matter is that you love the sport. When I hear someone use a slur toward gay people, that's not how I want my sport represented. People come from all walks of life to participate in MMA and they should all be welcome. I'm going to use whatever power I have to help make that change."

The "We Are All Fighters" campaign has helped put a little extra attention on his undercard bout with Lopes (18-2), a Nova Uniao fighter who was last seen losing to Reginaldo Vieira in the TUF: Brazil Finale match at UFC 190. Although Lopes has yet to prove himself at the top level, Birchak (12-3) is taking him seriously.

"He can throw down," said Birchak, who lost to Thomas Almeida in his last matchup. "I have to respect that. I can't just say ‘he's a fighter from TUF,' I have to respect what he can bring."

The highlight of Birchak's UFC stint thus far was his first-round knockout of former Bellator champion Joe Soto last June in New Orleans. And while he's not going headhunting against Lopes, he knows that fighting on the undercard of the first of three straight fight cards provides him the opportunity to set the tone for the entire week.

"I don't go looking for moments like I had against Joe Soto, but if the opening presents itself, of course I'm going to take it," Birchak said. "I'm so glad to be a part of this big fight week, when they called and offered me a spot I said yes right away. My plan is to help open the show with something good, and then enjoy the week in Las Vegas with my family. And hey, if I can do some good along the way, that's good, too."

Birchak

Courtesy of UFC