The feud between Vice President Mike Pence and gay Olympic skater Adam Rippon escalated again Thursday when Pence tweeted directly at the athlete, describing his history of supporting ex-gay conversion therapy as “fake news.”
In an interview last month, Rippon — the first openly gay athlete to qualify for the U.S. Winter Olympic team — objected to the fact Pence would be leading the delegation. “You mean Mike Pence, the same Mike Pence that funded gay conversion therapy?” he said. “I’m not buying it.” Adding that he’ll refuse to attend a post-Olympic celebration at the White House, Rippon also chided Pence for standing by President Trump’s various racist and insensitive comments.
Skier Gus Kenworthy, who came out in 2015 after winning a silver medal at the 2014 Olympics, also qualified for the 2018 Olympics and shared his own concerns about Pence, saying that having him lead the delegation “doesn’t send the right message.” Appearing on Ellen this week, he described Pence as someone who has “directly attacked the LGBT community” and “a bad fit” to lead the delegation.
“The Olympics is all about inclusion and people coming together, and it seems like it’s not really doing that,” Kenworthy said.
After USA Today first reported Rippon’s comments back in January, Pence’s press secretary Alyssa Farah quickly shot back, denying his claim. “This accusation is totally false and has no basis in fact,” she said. “Despite these misinformed claims, the vice president will be enthusiastically supporting all the U.S. athletes competing next month in Pyeongchang.”
Pence was so concerned with Rippon’s comments that he also apparently reached out to set up a meeting with the athlete. Rippon had said he was open to meeting with Pence, but only after the competition, and declined the offer. The vice president’s office initially denied having made this attempt, but has since confirmed reaching out to the U.S. Olympic Committee to offer — not request — a meeting with Rippon.
In a recent interview with YouTube’s Tyler Oakley, Rippon joked that he was in a “war” with Pence.
“When he was just a lad from Indiana, he was trying to fund gay conversion therapy…. And me, as a gay man, I’m not going to go out of my way to try to meet Mike Pence,” he said.
Pence’s repeated denials that he supported ex-gay therapy can easily be disproved. His 2000 congressional campaign website clearly said that he would only support funding for HIV treatment through the Ryan White Care Act if money stopped going to organizations that “celebrate and encourage the types of behaviors that facilitate the spreading of the HIV virus.” Instead, he argued, “Resources should be directed toward those institutions which provide assistance to those seeking to change their sexual behavior.”
In 2016, Pence spokesperson Marc Lotter insisted that this meant that Pence was actually calling for federal funds to “be directed to groups that promoted safe sexual practices.” That explanation, however, does not account for behaviors that Pence did not want to “celebrate and encourage,” nor does it explain to whom he was referring when he mentioned “those seeking to change their sexual behavior.” Moreover, it’s contradicted by the fact that, in 2002, Pence rejected the validity of condoms in a CNN interview, incorrectly calling them “a very, very poor protection against sexually transmitted diseases” and insisting that “the only truly safe sex…is no sex.”
As a congressman, Pence also offered a “religious freedom” amendment to a 2007 hate crimes bill that would have included protections based on sexual orientation. (Such a bill later became law in 2009). In his statement introducing the amendment, he listed various anti-gay activists who he worried would somehow be silenced by the legislation. Among his examples was “an ad campaign by pro-family groups showing that many former homosexual people had found happiness in a heterosexual lifestyle.”
The context doesn’t help either; Pence’s position on HIV funding on that same 2000 campaign website was immediately preceded by statements opposing both marriage equality for same-sex couples and any effort to protect “homosexuals” from discrimination in a similar fashion to women and ethnic minorities. Given Pence’s long history of homophobia both before and after his 2000 campaign, it’s inconceivable that he was referring to anything other than ex-gay therapy.