Tension between VP Pence, Olympian Rippon

Junior Bridget Quigley discusses openly gay figure skater Adam Rippon's disapproval of U.S. vice president Mike Pence, a common political topic of the Winter Olympics. Creative Commons Image: Gage Skidmore on Flickr.

By Bridget Quigley 

 As the U.S. Olympic team began to train and prepare for the winter Olympics in Pyeongchang this year, conflict and tension grew between vice president Mike Pence and one of the only openly gay members of the U.S. Olympic squad, figure skater Adam Rippon.

After qualifying for the Olympic team, Rippon began to gain somewhat of a fanbase and public platform. He used this to voice his opinions about Pence’s previous support of “sexual orientation conversion therapy” and overall disapproval of the gay community. Sexual orientation conversion therapy is the process of attempting to change one’s sexual orientation through a series of therapeutic methods, including electric shocks. "I feel that Mike Pence doesn't stand for anything that I was taught when I grew up, and I think that it's important if you're given the platform to speak up for those who don't have a voice," Rippon told USA Today a week ago.

The claims made by Pence about conversion therapy refer to a statement on his website in 2000 during his congressional campaign. “Congress should support the reauthorization of the Ryan White Care Act only after completion of an audit to ensure that federal dollars were no longer being given to organizations that celebrate and encourage the types of behaviors that facilitate the spreading of the HIV virus," Pence said. "Resources should be directed toward those institutions which provide assistance to those seeking to change their sexual behavior."

The Ryan White Care Act was enacted by Congress in 1990 and is the largest program in support of people living with HIV/AIDS. It is commonly known that the HIV virus is spread through sexual interaction, typically among the gay community. During his congressional campaign, Pence argued that government money should not be spent on programs that support “this type of behavior." Instead, he claimed, federal dollars should be given to sexual orientation conversion therapy programs.

When Rippon heard that Pence would be leading the 2018 Olympic delegation to South Korea, he was very open about his thoughts. “You mean Mike Pence, the same Mike Pence that funded gay conversion therapy?” Rippon told USA Today. “I’m not buying it.”

Before the winter games began, Pence reached out to Rippon for a phone call, but Rippon declined, saying he needed to stay focused on the competition and not let the media and any unnecessary drama take away from his experience and his teammates’ experience.

Rippon also continues to stand by his previous criticisms of Pence’s signing of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act in 2015. This act allows businesses to refuse to serve gay and lesbian customers on the basis of religious freedom.

With the conclusion of the 2018 Olympics in Pyeongchang, Rippon said on the Today Show last Friday that he would be happy to now speak with the vice president about his stance on gay rights, claiming that he wants to be able to use his voice to stand up for members of the LGBTQ+ community who do not have the same opportunity.

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