Rippon is referring to what he sees as the vice president’s past support of “gay conversion therapy.” The vice president, an evangelical Christian, supported funding “institutions which provide assistance to those seeking to change their sexual behavior” as part of his 2000 Senate campaign.
A representative from the vice president’s office denied his support.
“I spoke out because there are people out there whose lives have been affected by change that he’s tried to make,” Rippon said. “I spoke out for them because right now I have a voice, and I think it’s really important for me to use it. That’s a conversation for them.”
The Los Angeles-based Rippon is one of two openly gay athletes representing the United States at the Winter Olympics. The other, Gus Kenworthy, is competing in snowboarding.
Rippon’s remarks are the latest jab in a feud that erupted in January, just after he was named to the Olympic team, when a reporter asked what he thought of Pence’s pick as the head of the U.S. delegation to the PyeongChang Games.
“I don’t think he has a real concept of reality,” Rippon told USA Today. “To stand by some of the things that [President] Trump has said and for Mike Pence to say he’s a devout Christian man is completely contradictory. If he’s okay with what’s being said about people and Americans and foreigners and about different countries that are being called ‘s—holes,’ I think he should really go to church.”
As Pence arrived in PyeongChang on Thursday, news outlets as varied as USA Today and Vogue reported Rippon, who had criticized Pence for his understanding that the vice president has supported gay conversion therapy, turned down an offer to meet with the vice president in South Korea.
The vice president denied such an offer was made and tweeted that it was “fake news.” But several news outlets say they confirmed the offer with the vice president’s office.
For his part, Rippon said he is focusing on his next competition, in Friday’s men’s single skating short program.
“I’m ready. I’m here. I’m at the Olympics. I came to play, and I’m so excited to be here,” he said Sunday. “After this team competition and skating so well, I feel ready to show the world what else I have up my sleeve.”
Rippon grew up the oldest of six children raised by a single mother in Clarks Summit, Pa., just outside Scranton. He and his siblings attended Catholic school, where Rippon remembers being teased for being different.
“Being a small, gay kid from the middle of nowhere Pennsylvania is a hard way to grow up,” Rippon told the Orange County Register in January.
But finding his place on the ice after setbacks earlier in his career has brought him confidence. In 2015, he came out as gay in an interview with Skating magazine, and he has since become an increasingly vocal advocate for LGBTQ issues.
If invited to the White House after the Olympics, Rippon said he would not go. American skier Lindsey Vonn said she also would not accept a White House invitation.
“I personally have nothing to say to Mike Pence,” Rippon said on Twitter in January. “Given the chance to talk after the Olympics, I would want to bring with me people who’s lives have been hurt by the legislation he has championed.”
Some on social media said they would boycott Rippon’s performance at the 2018 Games. Others said they were uninterested in skating, but would watch because of the stand Rippon had taken.
Meanwhile, Rippon has promised his critics more of the same. “My blades are sharp, but my tongue is sharper,” he tweeted.
Rippon’s mother, Kelly, who will be in PyeongChang for her son’s Olympic debut, said people still tell her they are praying for her and her gay son.
“Or I’m praying against you,” she told the Orange County Register.
“One person came up to me and said ‘I’m still praying he just meets the right girl.’ And I’m thinking, What? Aren’t there other things you should be praying for. World famine? Shouldn’t you use your prayers for something that might happen?”
Rippon, who sometimes reveals via social media that he dabbles in New Age spirituality, told NBC that he brought his “healing crystals” to PyeongChang.
“They come from the belly of Mother Earth,” he said. “You know, I am always down for a little hocus pocus.”
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