There has been so much chatter over the last six weeks about the perceived “spat” between Olympic figure skater Adam Rippon and Vice President Mike Pence that it’s been hard to find the truth through the noise.
When USA Today reported weeks ago that Rippon rebuffed an invitation to speak with Pence, people fussed and fumed. Many members of the LGBTQ community and left-leaning politicos cheered at Rippon’s perceived rejection of Pence. Conservatives scowled at what they perceived to be an ungrateful American Olympian disrespecting the nation’s second-in-command.
Half the country seemed thrilled to be able to give the big middle finger to the other side.
In reality, Rippon was just sticking to his plan all along: Travel to South Korea, focus on his competition, support his teammates, and then, after his competitions are over, think about talking more about politics.
At the Olympics, he focused on the athletes and the competitions. Despite journalists, along with fellow out Olympian Gus Kenworthy, asking questions and making comments about Mike Pence and politics throughout the Games, Rippon respectfully declined to answer or diverted the topic back to the athletes, his fellow Olympians.
Now that the Olympics are over, Rippon has returned to his original position: He’s willing to talk with Pence.
“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 at the time, speaking volumes about his maturity and self-confidence. “He seems more mild-mannered than Donald Trump.”
Pence then reportedly asked Rippon to meet with him while he was at the Olympics, something Rippon had already said he didn’t want to do. Pence would be long gone by the time Rippon finished his competition.
Now Rippon has told The Today Show he would “totally” consider sitting down with Pence. The ball is back in Pence’s court, and hopefully he will again reach out to Rippon with an invitation.
When he sat down with Ellen on Thursday, he talked about not really having anything to say to Pence, but instead wanting Pence to listen to other people. I do disagree with Rippon — I think he has plenty to say because he has a story of struggle and triumph.
Still, Rippon’s heart and mind are in the right place: People who aren’t white men should absolutely be in on the conversation, and Rippon is just the one to make it happen.
Pence should welcome Rippon to bring a people who represent other areas of the LGBTQ community. People of different colors and gender identities could help round out a good conversation with Pence, showing some of the different LGBTQ experiences and struggles we face daily, rather than just those of out Olympic athletes.
Add to the conversation fellow Olympic Brittany Bowe — who brings perspectives of being a woman and living in Utah, where the Mormon Church that bans homosexuality is still very powerful — and I like what I’m seeing.
Rippon has previously said he would decline an invitation to the White House to celebrate Team USA’s accomplishments, including Rippon’s bronze medal. I 100% appreciate his hesitancy: the idea of a White House visit looking like an endorsement of some of the anti-LGBTQ steps Pence and the Trump Administration have taken.
Sorry, no thank you.
Make no mistake: Pence has been no friend of the LGBTQ community with either his policies or his rhetoric. No one was more critical than me of the discriminatory policies he signed into law in 2015 as Indiana Governor.
Yet Rippon’s very presence in the White House — with people of all colors and identities — would be something to behold. The chance to talk, share and listen in a meaningful way can help bridge the canyon that currently seems to exist between the LGBTQ community and an increasingly small minority of Americans.
It won’t solve it, but even a marathon takes a first step.
The speedy advances for LGBTQ equality have happened because we haven’t shied away from being our true selves. We have been willing to be out and proud in places like Indiana. I know my Dad is an ardent supporter of LGBTQ rights today because he knows gay people like my husband and me.
Of course, my support of an honest conversation at the White House is support of only that: an honest conversation. A handshake and a photo-op wouldn’t help build any kind of understanding.
Yet if a real conversation with Rippon, his (hopefully) glittery presence in the East Wing, and a “rainbow coalition” can help move the needle a fraction of a fraction of a percent, I’m all for it.
If Pence’s original invitation was genuine, I hope he’ll reach back out to Rippon. That conversation taking place in the White House — The People’s House — would mean something.
With so many people shouting at each other today, it just seems like a missed opportunity to turn away from a sit-down conversation — with someone as powerful as the Vice President of the United States — no matter where it is.