On Thursday, Gus Kenworthy broke his thumb. It wasn't all bad news, though — at least, not according to Kenworthy's. The U.S. skier tweeted that his broken finger came with a "silver lining": skipping the handshake with Vice President Pence.
After posting two photos of the injury — one of his X-ray, and the second of his thumb in a hand guard — Kenworthy tweeted, "Broke my thumb yesterday in practice. It won't stop me from competing (obvi) but it does prevent me from shaking Pence's hand so... Silver linings!" Kenworthy went on to say cheerfully that he'd "literally" be be giving everyone a "thumbs up" for the rest of the games.
It's just the latest in a series of digs at Pence, who led the U.S. delegation at the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Games. As an openly gay athlete, Kenworthy has been clear that the vice president's record on LGBTQ issues isn't just some typical policy squabble — it's personal.
Kenworthy took an earlier swipe at Pence during the opening ceremony. After walking in the Olympic parade, the slope style competitor posted a picture of himself on Instagram with figure skater Adam Rippon. In the caption, Kenworthy wrote in part, “I’m so proud to be representing the LGBTQ community alongside this amazing guy!"
Then came his directive to the vice president: "Eat your hear out, Pence!"
Kenworthy is not the only American athlete to take direct aim at the vice president. Perhaps the most outspoken U.S. Olympian on that front is Rippon, who has been persistently candid in his views on just about everything.
When asked in January about the chocie of Pence as head of the U.S. delegation in PyeongChang, Rippon kicked off his now weeks-long feud with the vice president. "If he’s okay with what’s being said about people and Americans and foreigners and about different countries that are being called ‘sh*tholes,’ I think he should really go to church," Rippon told USA Today.
Rippon also said he would "not go out of [his] way" to meet someone who 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 appears to be referring to part of Pence's campaign website for his first House run in 2000. The section in question read: “Resources should be directed toward those institutions which provide assistance to those seeking to change their sexual behavior." Pence has long denied that he was referring to gay conversion therapy, but clearly, Rippon thinks otherwise.
In a tweet, Pence called the feud "fake news."
For many advocates and supporters of LGBTQ rights, Pence is an especially troubling figure. In 2015, as then-governor of Indiana, Pence signed into law a religious freedom bill that set off a firestorm of controversy. Many argued that the law amounted to a blanket license for businesses to discriminate against members of the LGBTQ community under the guise of religion.
After intense backlash, Pence backtracked on his support for the measure, and signed an amendment aimed at eradicating legal cover for discrimination based on sexual orientation. But for many, Pence had by then pretty much become the national face of anti-LGBTQ bias.
Opponents of Pence also point to a defense he gave of defining marriage as solely between one man and one woman. Speaking in 2006 in his position as a House representative, Pence said during his speech that "societal collapse" has historically been preceded by the "deterioration of marriage and family." This view of Pence's seems to be backed up by his House vote against the Employment Non-Discrimination Act and his vote against repealing the military policy of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell."
That kind of background has not made Pence many friends among the openly gay athletes in PyeongChang. "I’m so proud that now you can exist as a gay man and be an Olympian, and it can be beneficial rather than negative,” Kenworthy told the Washington Post shortly after the games began. For him, Rippon, and many others, the newfound acceptance of gay athletes is mutually exclusive with buddying up to the vice president.