Vice-President Mike Pence has been tapped to lead the United States Olympic delegation at the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang.
That decision raised the eyebrows of Adam Rippon, the figure skater who will become one of the first publicly out gay male Winter Olympians next month.
Talking with Christine Brennan of USA Today, Rippon expressed some sense of displeasure with the choice, yet at the same time reflected a potential opportunity for open communication instead of the obscured division that seems to increasingly plague American culture every day.
“If I had the chance to meet him afterwards, after I’m finished competing, there might be a possibility to have an open conversation,” Rippon told USA Today. “He seems more mild-mannered than Donald Trump.”
One of the things they may want to talk about is gay conversation therapy. Rippon has claimed that Pence supports the debunked practice of trying to turn gay people straight. However, Pence’s spokesperson said today that is simply not true.
“The accusation is totally false with no basis in fact,” Alyssa Farah, Pence’s press secretary, said in a statement to the Los Angeles Times. “But despite these misinformed claims, the vice president will be enthusiastically supporting all the U.S. athletes competing next month in Pyeongchang.”
Regardless, Rippon’s openness to an actual, honest dialogue with Pence is refreshing to see.
Years ago, as Chick-Fil-A COO Dan Cathy helped wage a war against same-sex marriage, he opened a dialogue with Campus Pride founder Shane Windmeyer. The two engaged in a series of mostly private conversations that helped both men — and the communities they represent — understand one another more.
Hopefully Pence has the same willingness and enthusiasm for a real conversation with Rippon as well.
Rippon also said that while he welcomes a private conversation with Pence, he won’t be using his platform at the Olympics to protest anything or anyone.
“I’m a U.S. athlete representing my country,” Rippon told USA Today. “I will continue to share my story, but I will participate in no form of protest. I’m representing myself and my country on the world stage. I have a lot of respect for this opportunity. What makes America great is that we’re all so different. It’s 2018 and being an openly gay man and an athlete, that is part of the face of America now.”