An openly gay figure skater who will compete for the United States in the Winter Olympics next month ripped the choice of Vice President Pence to lead the American delegation to South Korea, citing what he says is Pence’s stance on gay conversion therapy.
“You mean Mike Pence, the same Mike Pence that funded gay conversion therapy?” Adam Rippon, the 2016 U.S. men’s figure skating champion, told USA Today. Rippon, 28, added that he would prefer not to meet the vice president, which is traditional, just before the Opening Ceremonies. There is a chance that the schedule for the figure skating competition will prevent him from being there.
“If it were before my event, I would absolutely not go out of my way to meet somebody who I felt has gone out of their way to not only show that they aren’t a friend of a gay person but that they think that they’re sick,” Rippon said. “I wouldn’t go out of my way to meet somebody like that.
“I don’t think he has a real concept of reality. To stand by some of the things that Donald 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.”
Spokespeople for Pence have denied that he supports gay conversion therapy, a claim that arose from a 2000 statement on his congressional campaign website that said, “Resources should be directed toward those institutions which provide assistance to those seeking to change their sexual behavior.”
LGBT leaders interpreted that to mean gay-conversion therapy, but Alyssa Farah, the vice president’s press secretary, said the claim was false in a statement to USA Today: “The vice president is proud to lead the U.S. delegation to the Olympics and support America’s incredible athletes. This accusation is totally false and has no basis in fact. Despite these misinformed claims, the vice president will be enthusiastically supporting all the U.S. athletes competing next month in PyeongChang.”
If given the opportunity to meet Pence, Rippon said he was he would consider it.
“If I had the chance to meet him afterwards, after I’m finished competing, there might be a possibility to have an open conversation,” Rippon said. “He seems more mild-mannered than Donald Trump. … But I don’t think the current administration represents the values that I was taught growing up. Mike Pence doesn’t stand for anything that I really believe in.”
Rippon, who came out publicly in 2015, added that he will not visit Trump in the White House after the Games, but plans no protest or gesture in PyeongChang.
“No, I’m a U.S. athlete representing my country. I will continue to share my story, but I will participate in no form of protest. I’m representing myself and my country on the world stage,” he said. “I have a lot of respect for this opportunity. What makes America great is that we’re all so different. It’s 2018 and being an openly gay man and an athlete, that is part of the face of America now.”
For the last Winter Olympics, in Sochi, Russia, in 2014, President Barack Obama named several openly gay athletes, including Billie Jean King, Brian Boitano and Caitlin Cahow, to the delegation to the Opening and Closing Ceremonies. In a statement announcing the makeup of the delegation, the White House did not specifically mention Russian laws banning “gay propaganda” as a motivating factor, stressing instead U.S. “diversity.”
“President Obama is extremely proud of our U.S. athletes and looks forward to cheering them on from Washington,” the statement released by the White House said. “He knows they will showcase to the world the best of America — diversity, determination and teamwork.”
Pence is no stranger to the controversies that can arise from mixing sports and politics. In October, he walked out of the Colts-49ers NFL game at the direction of the president because players were taking a knee during the national anthem to demonstrate about social injustice and police brutality. “I left today’s Colts game because @POTUS and I will not dignify any event that disrespects our soldiers, our Flag, or our National Anthem,” Pence wrote on Twitter.
While he was governor of Indiana, Pence passed a “religious freedom” bill in 2015 that drew fire from the NCAA and other state groups just days before the NCAA men’s basketball Final Four was to be held in Indianapolis. The bill quickly came under fire, particularly from the state’s pro sports teams and from the NCAA, because it would have allowed businesses to refuse service to gay patrons based on religious grounds. The NCAA, which has its headquarters in Indianapolis, was on the forefront of protesters when the law was passed, with President Mark Emmert issuing a reminder that the organization wants its neutral-site championships to take place in an atmosphere of inclusion. He made his point in no uncertain terms. The law was later modified.
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