U.S. Olympic figure skater Adam Rippon reportedly turned down a private meeting offered by U.S. Vice President Mike Pence’s office after he blasted the vice president’s record on LGBTQ rights. Rippon, who is openly gay, asserted in an interview that Pence supported conversion therapy during his time in Congress, an allegation that the vice president denies.
On Feb. 7, two sources who requested anonymity told USA Today that Pence was concerned by criticisms levied against him by Rippon. The vice president’s office reportedly reached out to the Olympian for a meeting, but was rebuffed.
The 28-year-old Rippon, who was the 2016 U.S. men’s figure skating champion, is one of the first openly gay American athletes to participate in the Olympics. On Jan. 17, Rippon blasted the selection of Pence to lead the U.S. delegation at the upcoming 2018 Winter Olympic games in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
“You mean Mike Pence, the same Mike Pence that funded gay conversion therapy?” Rippon said. “I’m not buying it.”
The figure skater asserted that the vice president was bigoted towards LGBTQ people and said that he would decline to meet him during the games’ opening ceremony, as is custom.
“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.”
Later that day, Pence reportedly asked his staff to reach out to Rippon for a private conversation. The two sources said that Rippon rejected the offer.
Jarrod Agen, the vice president’s deputy chief of staff and communications director, denied that a private meeting was ever offered.
“The vice president’s office did not reach out to set up a conversation with Mr. Rippon,” Agen said.
The Pulitzer Prize-winning fact-checking website PolitiFact has characterized the accusation that Pence advocated for conversion therapy as “half true,” explaining that the vice president’s views were not a settled matter.
Conversion therapy is the highly controversial practice of attempting to change a gay person’s sexuality to heterosexual. It has been banned in several states. The LGBTQ community has accused Pence of endorsing the practice based on his congressional campaign platform in 2000, which called for diverting taxpayer funds to “institutions which provide assistance to those seeking to change their sexual behavior.”
LGBTQ advocates have asserted that the proposal was meant to signal to supporters that Pence supported shifting government dollars to conversion therapy, adding that Pence’s policies and rhetoric as a congressman and governor of Indiana indicated a hostility towards gay rights. Pence’s team has denied that characterization and said that the vice president was referring to programs that promote safe sex for AIDS and HIV prevention. Pence has never explicitly stated support for conversion therapy.
On Feb. 7, Pence took to social media to make a direct appeal to Rippon.
“[Adam Rippon] I want you to know we are FOR YOU,” Pence tweeted out. “Don’t let fake news distract you. I am proud of you and ALL OF OUR GREAT athletes and my only hope for you and all of #TeamUSA is to bring home the gold. Go get ’em!”
On Feb. 8, Rippon told reporters after a practice session that he did not want his opinion of Pence to become a focal point of the Winter Games.
“I don’t want to make this too much for my competitors and for my teammates,” Rippon said, according to Fox News. “I’m just kind of focused on the competition … I don’t mind talking about it but I don’t want to distract my teammates.”
The figure skater added that he would be open to speaking with Pence after he finished competing.
“I mean, after the competition I’ll have an open conversation, but the opening ceremony is tomorrow,” Rippon continued. “I’m really focused on the competition. I’ve waited 28 years to get here. I’m trying to stay focused. It’s my opportunity show the world what I’ve got and represent my country.”
That same day, a White House official who declined to be named clarified to reporters that Pence’s office had “offered” Rippon a meeting but did not make an official “request,” according to USA Today Sports.