The Adam Rippon & Mike Pence Dispute Is Heating Up As The Winter Olympics Kicks Off

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On Thursday, a U.S. Olympic skater made it clear that he doesn't want his ongoing friction with the vice president of the United States to "distract" from the games. Adam Rippon and Mike Pence have had a feud — or something like it — lately, and it escalated when news broke on Wednesday that the skater had reportedly turned down a meeting with Pence last month. Rippon is one of only two openly gay U.S. athletes competing in PyeongChang, and he disapproves of the vice president's history of enacting anti-LGBTQ policy.

But despite his strong feelings on the matter, Rippon wants to keep everyone's focus on the upcoming competitions. This is his first Olympic games and he's already made history at 28 years old by becoming the oldest rookie skater to make the U.S. team in over 80 years.

"I don't want to make this too much for my competitors and for my teammates," Rippon told reporters on Thursday. "I'm just kind of focused on the competition. The opening ceremony is tomorrow. I don't mind talking about it but I don't want to distract my teammates."

Meanwhile, Pence is also eager to distance himself from the entanglement. He tweeted out a message of support for Rippon on Thursday — "I am proud of you" — and labeled some of the stories about their dispute as "fake news."

Their feud began when Rippon gave an interview with USA Today last month in which he criticized the White House's decision to have Mike Pence lead its Olympic delegation.

You mean Mike Pence, the same Mike Pence that funded gay conversion therapy? I'm not buying it.

Rippon was referring to a statement of Pence's from his 2000 campaign to represent Indiana in the House of Representatives: "Resources should be directed toward those institutions which provide assistance to those seeking to change their sexual behavior." This comment has been widely taken to mean that Pence supported directing resources to gay conversion therapy.

As Indiana's governor, Pence signed the 2015 Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which critics said would allow businesses to refuse service to LGBT people. He's also supported plenty of other anti-LGBT legislation over the years.

Rippon told USA Today that he would not want to meet Pence before competing.

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 did say that he would consider meeting Pence after the Olympics.

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Pence's team released a statement to USA Today in response to Rippon's interview.

This accusation [about Pence supporting gay conversion therapy] is totally false and has no basis in fact. Despite these misinformed claims, the vice president will be enthusiastically supporting all the U.S. athletes competing next month in Pyeongchang.

But on Wednesday, USA Today offered another piece to the story: According to two anonymous sources who spoke to the paper, Pence reached out to the skater just after the interview to request a meeting, an invitation that Rippon declined. Pence's communications director put out a statement on Thursday saying that this report was "false & should be corrected," but a White House official seemed to mostly confirm the story that same day by saying that Pence's office had reached out to Rippon regarding a potential meeting, though suggested they were "offering — not requesting."

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Rippon seems to have mixed feelings about all of the attention that this dispute is attracting. On the one hand, he is happy to be a vocal supporter of LGBT rights and wants his opinions about Pence known.

"I'm in a current war with Michael Pence," he admitted serenely in a video with YouTube star Tyler Oakley. (Responding to Pence's statements about being excited to root for U.S. athletes despite the "false" allegations that he supported conversion therapy, Rippon said sarcastically, "That's great, baby, thank you, can't wait.")

But Rippon also wants the media's focus to be on the Olympics. "The only things I've been talking about the last few days are Mike Pence, being gay, and my eyebrows," he joked to The Washington Post on Wednesday.

Rippon's feelings on the issue echo his statements about wanting people to focus on his athleticism before his sexuality, telling the Post:

First and foremost, I'm an athlete. And I'm an Olympian. I'm not a gay Olympian. I'm just an Olympian that's also gay.

However, he did add:

I don't mind reading that — like, "gay Olympian Adam Rippon." It's fine. I hope that, in a way, it makes it easier for other young kids who are gay. If they go to the Olympics, they can just be called Olympians.