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Adam Rippon, the 2016 U.S. men’s figure skating champion who is believed to be the first openly gay U.S. Winter Olympian, criticized the White House’s selection of Vice President Mike Pence to lead the 2018 U.S. Olympic delegation to South Korea in a phone interview with USA TODAY Sports Tuesday night.
“You mean Mike Pence, the same Mike Pence that funded gay conversion therapy?” Rippon said. “I’m not buying it.”
Rippon, 28, who was selected to his first Olympic team earlier this month after finishing fourth at the U.S. national championships, said that he would prefer not to meet Pence during the traditional meet-and-greet between the official delegation and U.S. athletes in the hours leading to the opening ceremony. It’s possible Rippon would have to miss that event anyway to be part of the team figure skating competition.
“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,” Rippon said of Pence. “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 ‘shitholes,’ I think he should really go to church.”
Rippon did say that if given a chance to meet Pence after competing (unlikely considering the relatively short length of any delegation’s visit to the Games), 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.”
The widespread belief that Pence supports gay conversion therapy comes from a statement he made in 2000 on his congressional campaign website: “Resources should be directed toward those institutions which provide assistance to those seeking to change their sexual behavior.” While he didn’t explicitly mention gay conversion therapy, leaders in the LGBT community have said they believe that’s what Pence meant in light of his long-standing opposition to gay rights. In November 2016, the New York Times reported that Pence’s spokesman at the time, Marc Lotter, denied that Pence supports the practice.
Four years ago, President Barack Obama asked several openly-gay athletes to serve on the U.S. delegations to the opening and closing ceremonies in Sochi, including tennis legend Billie Jean King, Olympic figure skating gold medalist Brian Boitano and two-time Olympic hockey medalist Caitlin Cahow.
“I think the move that President Obama made was very poignant and it was right in the midst of the huge controversy of gay propaganda being illegal in Russia,” Rippon said, referring to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s anti-gay efforts.
Rippon, who said he was bullied and teased as a boy growing up in Scranton, Pa., came out publicly as being gay in October 2015. He often talks about how he hopes his story can help others, especially young people who might be struggling with their sexuality.
Always outspoken, Rippon said recently he will not go to the White House for a post-Olympic celebration hosted by President Trump. “I said no,” he reiterated Tuesday. Legendary skier Lindsey Vonn has said she will not attend as well.
But Rippon also said he will not protest for gay rights or against the Trump administration in any way during the Olympics themselves.
“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. 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.”