Gay Olympic skater criticizes Mike Pence selection as delegation leader

The news that the White House had selected Vice President Mike Pence to lead the United States’ delegation at the 2018 Winter Olympics was nothing out of the ordinary. It was a decision in line with those made by previous administrations.

On the other hand, this administration is different than previous administrations. It’s particularly divisive. And it’s not lost on one Olympian that the delegation – his delegation – will be led by a man who has openly antagonized people like him.

Adam Rippon, the 2016 U.S. men’s figure skating champion, and one of at least two openly gay Americans on the 2018 U.S. Olympic team, spoke to USA Today about the selection of Pence, and strongly criticized the decision.

“You mean Mike Pence, the same Mike Pence that funded gay conversion therapy?” Rippon asked rhetorically.

Pence has a long record as, in the words of a Human Rights Campaign spokesman, “one of the most anti-LGBT politicians out there.” In the words of Rea Carey, the executive director of the National LGBTQ Task Force, Pence “led a direct, massive and concerted effort in the state of Indiana to deny equality to LGBT people” while governor.

He signed a bill that essentially made it legal for businesses to refuse service to LGBT people. He has opposed same-sex marriage. And, as Rippon mentioned, Pence has supported gay conversion therapy, a practice widely ridiculed and discredited by the medical community.

(Pence has denied that he supports conversion therapy. In a statement Wednesday, his press secretary, Alyssa Farah, said Rippon’s “accusation is totally false with no basis in fact.”)

Rippon, who will be competing at his first Olympics, told USA Today that he would not protest during the games, but said that he had no interest in meeting Pence – something many U.S. Olympians could have the opportunity to do.

“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,” he said.

“If I had the chance to meet him afterwards, after I’m finished competing, there might be a possibility to have an open conversation. 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 likely isn’t the only U.S. Olympian who feels that way. He’s also not the only one to have said he wouldn’t go to the White House after the Games. Two of the most prominent members of Team USA, Lindsey Vonn and Nathan Chen, have said they won’t go. Openly gay skier Gus Kenworthy has said he won’t either.

Rippon, in his interview with USA Today, also praised Barack Obama’s 2014 Olympics delegation selections, which sent a much different message than the selection of Pence does. Obama selected gay former Olympians as part of the U.S. delegation for both the Opening and Closing Ceremonies at the 2014 Sochi Games.

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