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.”
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 Timesreported that Pence’s spokesman at the time, Marc Lotter, denied that Pence supports the practice.
After publication of this story Wednesday, Pence’s press secretary Alyssa Farah emailed a statement to USA TODAY Sports: “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.”
Rippon did say in his Tuesday night interview 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.