News & Opinion

The 2018 Winter Olympics

Thanks Mike Pence. You helped make Adam Rippon an LGBTQ Olympics hero

The Daily Beast

February 13, 2018

When ice skater Adam Rippon was interviewed after his mesmerizing Olympics skate, his winning warm charm was on full beam.

“It’s like pretty awesome,” he said to the audience watching at home. “I highly recommend it. If you ever have the option, come to the Olympics. It’s like a fun time. Today was so special, so much fun.”

There is something delicious about watching Rippon generally—because he’s having the best fun while also dead-serious in his medal-winning ambition; and his skating is a joy—and particularly when it comes to briskly dismissing Vice President Mike Pence.

It’s always inspiring to see an LGBTQ person stand up against prejudice; and, in Rippon, the vice president has been aced by a crisply sassy, articulate gay man who has absolutely no time for Pence’s prejudice and insincere overtures of comradeship.

Indeed, Rippon told the Daily Mail he would boycott any Team USA celebration held by President Trump at the White House, indicating he would rather hold an LGBTQ-oriented event of his own.

Where Pence possesses a lumbering bigotry, Rippon has intelligence, eloquence, wit, and beautiful ice-skating skills. It is Rippon now hailed as America’s sweetheart, while in South Korea Pence looked like a sad businessman not really enjoying the travel freebie he’d accepted.

Rippon has not called on Pence to do anything. He hasn’t asked for anything from Pence at all. But the Winter Olympics’ first out-gay U.S. competitor has called Pence out, first for supporting conversion therapy, then for his general prejudice and acts of legislative hostility toward the LGBTQ community.

Pence has denied the conversion-therapy charge, but Rippon is merely echoing LGBT groups’ highlighting of the now-infamous quote from Pence’s congressional campaign website in 2000, in which, referring to organizations that should not receive federal support under the Ryan White Care Act, included those “that celebrate and encourage the types of behaviors that facilitate the spreading of the HIV virus.”

Instead, Pence wrote, “Resources should be directed toward those institutions which provide assistance to those seeking to change their sexual behavior.”

Pence has denied he meant conversion therapy in that last sentence, but has not specified which groups he was speaking about.

Then there is Pence’s resolutely held record of bigotry: As Time catalogued, in 2006, he said gay couples could bring about “societal collapse”; he opposed anti-discrimination legislation, and the repeal of the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy. He rejected the Obama administration’s guidance to schools that they should allow students to use bathrooms according to their preferred gender identification.

The Rippon and Pence tangle began when Rippon, pre-Olympics, told USA Today of the choice of Pence to lead the U.S. Olympic delegation: “You mean Mike Pence, the same Mike Pence that funded gay conversion therapy? I’m not buying it.”

As for the idea of meeting Pence, Rippon added: “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. I wouldn’t go out of my way to meet somebody like that.”

He added: “I don’t think he has a real concept of reality. To stand by some of the things that Donald Trump has said and for Mike Pence to say he’s a devout Christian man is completely contradictory. If he’s OK with what’s being said about people and Americans and foreigners and about different countries that are being called ‘shitholes,’ I think he should really go to church.”

Pence’s office denies he reached out to meet with Rippon after the interview was published; other sources say he did.

But it’s not Rippon that Pence should be reaching out to to explain his position on homosexuality and LGBTQ equality, it’s LGBTQ people themselves. And if he’s too scared to face LGBTQ people, then he should face a journalist or journalists who can ask him exactly what he does believe when it comes to homosexuality and homophobia, and what he is doing as VP to advance his beliefs.

Rippon is too wise to be used as a gay scapegoat and make-nice photo opportunity. He is also, as viewers of the Olympics are quickly discovering, utterly himself. It is a joy to watch, and a liberating joy at that.

Born in 1989, he told one interviewer his first memory was watching the 1992 Winter Olympics. When those ice skaters fell, he fell to the ground in toddler kinship.

Rippon is so alive he makes all of us watching him feel alive. He’s that rare thing in pop culture: a regular gay guy, happy with himself, handsome, stylish, politically astute, and a charming speaker.

He’s not the polarities of gay pop culture traffics in: He is neither the “straight-acting” gay guy that TV can serve up, and he’s not the flaming queen that TV can also serve up—he glides somewhere in the middle, like many gay people do, and it’s wonderful to watch America be charmed by his authenticity.

For example: what would he tell the Olympic judges if he could—that he wants to throw up and if he had a quick drink and Xanax he’d be fine.

Or revealing how his mom always taught him to stand up for what he believed in, giving his skating a greater purpose.

Watch and hear his reaction as his friend and Olympic roommate Mirai Nagasu landed her history-making triple axel.

Enjoy him on Monday’s Good Morning America, speaking to Amy Robach just after winning bronze in the team competition.

“I didn’t think I’ve ever felt that nervous at 10 a.m. in my entire life,” he said. “I thought I was going to throw up, but I kept it together.”

This is both funny (keeping it together is such a wonderful phrase said well), but there’s a serious echo there that many LGBT people feel, and that echo thrums while watching Rippon skate.

He loves it, he goes for it, he’s giving it everything. He’s performing, showing himself, showing the depth of his training and mastery of form, and also defying everything that has been thrown against him, including everything that Pence and his ilk stand for, then throwing it back at the world as strength, glitter, and technical excellence dusted with attitude and pride. It is real strength, real bravery, and really gay in the best possible way.

When Robach said how many people thought he danced too well to be placed third, Rippon replied that he thought those people should be placed on the next judging panel watching his next performance immediately.

As for what he would say to Pence, Rippon said: “You know what? I personally don’t have anything to say to Mike Pence. I’m very lucky because the legislation he’s pushed hasn’t affected my life at all.” He had spoken out for the people whose lives had been affected by Pence and his actions, Rippon added. “Right now I have a voice. I think it’s really important for me to use it.”

That again is impressive, and welcome. It is brave first to come out, and then to use that platform to support and advocate for change, particularly against the Trump White House, is so impressive, especially given the troll-filled cauldron of social media.

When Robach asked about his friendship with team-mate Gus Kenworthy, Rippon sweetly said how they had met and become friends, noting casually he was “super-cute.”

So, are you, Robach said.

“Stop,” he said in a gently over-it kind of way.

Robach flailed a little at being camp in return.

“Girl, I’m ready,” Rippon said of what comes next for his individual competition. “I’m here. I’m at the Olympics. I came to play. I feel ready to show the world what else I have up my sleeve.”

This again is a real LGBTQ person speaking: no shit, tough, and also determined to have the time of his life. To own the time of his life.

As for what he will do when he gets home, Rippon has it all planned. It’s my favorite answer of the interview (indeed perhaps any interview, when a question is asked of future ambitions).

Rippon said: “I’m going to Target, and getting a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc Oyster Bay with a twist top. Immediately.”

As co-anchor Robin Roberts said back in New York, after instructing Robach to give Rippon a hug, “A star is born.” And more than that: a new, and very refreshing, kind of LGBT hero.

And one whose butt is real, OK?