Two openly gay Winter Olympic U.S. athletes have spoken out against Vice President Mike Pence leading the U.S. delegation in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
"You mean Mike Pence, the same Mike Pence that funded gay conversion therapy?" said figure skater Adam Rippon last month, referring to Pence's prejudiced past with the queer community. "I’m not buying it."
An aggressively conservative politician, Pence has a history of attacking LGBTQ rights. In 2000, Pence wanted to divert money from HIV research to "institutions which provide assistance to those seeking to change their sexual behavior." In 2006, Pence supported a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex weddings. In 2013 as governor, he signed a bill that would jail same-sex couples in Indiana who applied for a marriage license.
Pence was quick to respond to Rippon's comments. "This accusation is totally false and has no basis in fact," said press secretary Alyssa Farah. "Despite these misinformed claims, the vice president will be enthusiastically supporting all the U.S. athletes competing next month in Pyeongchang."
Pence then reached out to the athlete to set up a meeting ahead of the Games. Rippon declined, wanting to focus on his training. "I’m not trying to pick a fight with the vice president of the United States," he replied, although he wouldn't mind meeting with the Vice President once the Olympics are over. "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."
Since the story began receiving national attention, Pence tweeted at Rippon claiming his opposition to gay rights is fake news.
.@Adaripp I want you to know we are FOR YOU. 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!
— Vice President Mike Pence (@VP) February 8, 2018
Rippon hasn't responded to the tweet.
Freeskier Gus Kenworthy echoed similar sentiments on Ellen DeGeneres.
"[Pence] seems like such a strange choice," he explained. "To have somebody leading the delegation that’s directly attacked the LGBTQ community, and a Cabinet in general that just sort of stands against us and has tried to do things to set us back, it just seems like a bad fit."
Kenworthy continued, "I feel like the Olympics is all about inclusion and people coming together, and it seems like it’s not really doing that."