Figure skater turns down meeting with Mike Pence, citing VP's stance on gay rights

Posted at 9:17 AM, Feb 08, 2018
and last updated 2018-02-08 10:34:55-05

US Olympic figure skater Adam Rippon turned down a meeting with Vice President Mike Pence after criticizing him for his stance on gay rights, USA Today reported Wednesday.

After reading a January 17 interview in which Rippon criticized Pence, the vice president's staff asked the US Olympic Committee to set up a conversation that same day between the athlete and the politician, which Rippon ultimately declined, USA Today's Christine Brennan reported, citing two sources with knowledge of the situation. Brennan is also a CNN sports analyst.

In a post on his official Twitter account Thursday, Pence told Rippon the US delegation was "for you," and warned him not to let the "fake news" distract him.

"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!" he told the athlete.

The vice president's office did not respond to a CNN request for comment earlier Wednesday. After CNN's story published, Jarrod Agen, the vice president's communications director, disputed USA Today's reporting.

"The USA Today report is false and should be corrected. The vice president's office did not reach out to set up a conversation with Mr. Rippon. As we've said before, the vice president is supporting all the US athletes in the Olympics and is hoping they all win medals," Agen said.

Rippon's publicist Lynn Plage offered no further comment on the matter.

Last month, Rippon, who is one of two openly gay American Olympians at the Games, blasted the White House for tapping Pence to lead the official US delegation to the 2018 Winter Olympic opening ceremony.

"You mean Mike Pence, the same Mike Pence that funded gay conversion therapy?" Rippon said in a January 17 interview with USA Today.

Alyssa Farah, a spokeswoman for Pence, provided the newspaper with a rebuttal to Rippon's remarks.

"This accusation is totally false and has no basis in fact," Farah said in a statement. "Despite these misinformed claims, the vice president will be enthusiastically supporting all the US athletes competing next month in Pyeongchang."

As governor of Indiana, Pence signed the controversial Religious Freedom Restoration Act in 2015, which allowed business to turn away gay and lesbian customers in the name of religious freedom.

In that same January 17 interview, Rippon said he "wouldn't go out of my way" to meet with Pence during the meet-and-greet between the US Olympic athletes and the US delegation before the opening ceremony.

"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," Rippon told the newspaper.

The US men's figure skating champion, however, said, "If I had the chance to meet him afterwards, after I'm finished competing, there might be a possibility to have an open conversation."

"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," Rippon added.

During a conference call with reporters last Monday, Rippon insisted that he was not "trying to pick a fight" with the vice president, but instead remain focused on training, according to USA Today.

Rippon, 28, and U.S. skier Gus Kenworthy, 26, are the first two openly gay Winter Olympic athletes representing Team USA. Kenworthy also took issue with the vice president leading the U.S. delegation, calling it a "strange choice in an interview with Ellen DeGeneres Monday.

Both Rippon and Kenworthy said they would skip visiting the White House when President Donald Trump invites Team USA after the Olympics.

This story has been updated to reflect comment from Pence's office.

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