Gay Figure Skater Picks a Fight with Pence
Athlete from the American team refuses to meet with the vice president because of his devout Christian beliefs and values
Team USA figure skater Adam Rippon seems to have brought some extra baggage to his Olympic debut in South Korea — a feud with Vice President Mike Pence.
As Pence arrived in Pyeongchang Thursday, February 8, news outlets as varied as USA Today and Vogue reported that Rippon, who had criticized Pence for his support of gay conversion therapy, turned down an offer to meet with the vice president in South Korea.
The vice president, who is leading the U.S. delegation to the Winter Olympics, 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.
At 28, the Los Angeles-based Rippon is the oldest American skater to make the Olympic team in 80 years. He is also the first openly gay athlete to represent the U.S. at the Winter Olympics, joined there by Gus Kenworthy, an openly gay snowboarder, who qualified a few days after Rippon.
After Rippon qualified for Team USA, a reporter asked what he thought of the appointment of Pence as the head of the U.S. delegation to the Winter Games.
“You mean Mike Pence, the same Mike Pence that funded gay conversion therapy?” Rippon said. “I’m not buying it.”
Rippon was referring to Pence’s 2000 campaign for U.S. Senate, when he supported funding “institutions which provide assistance to those seeking to change their sexual behavior.”
Rippon made clear that his distaste for Pence — an evangelical Christian who speaks frequently of the importance of faith in his life — goes beyond an 18-year old campaign platform.
“I don’t think he has a real concept of reality,” Rippon told USA Today in January. “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 OK 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.”
"My blades are sharp, but my tongue is sharper" — Team USA figure skater Adam Rippon grew up the oldest of six children raised by a single mother in Clarks Summit, 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 a series of 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 would also 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 [sic] 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."
This article originally appeared in Religion News Service.