Vice President Mike Pence, who will lead the U.S. delegation to the Winter Olympics in South Korea next month, is striking back at criticism by gay Olympian Adam Rippon over his anti-LGBT record.
In an interview with USA Today this week, figure skater Rippon said he’s not eager to meet Pence, “the same Mike Pence that funded gay conversion therapy.” He added, “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.”
The story was published Wednesday, leading Alyssa Farah, Pence’s press secretary, to issue this statement to the newspaper: “The vice president is proud to lead the U.S. delegation to the Olympics and support America’s incredible athletes. This accusation 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.”
Actually, it does have some basis. In 2000, when Pence was running for Congress from Indiana, his campaign website carried this statement about the Ryan White Care Act, a federal law that appropriates funds for community-based AIDS service organizations: “Congress should support the reauthorization of the Ryan White Care Act only after completion of an audit to ensure that federal dollars were no longer being given to organizations that celebrate and encourage the types of behaviors that facilitate the spreading of the HIV virus. Resources should be directed toward those institutions which provide assistance to those seeking to change their sexual behavior.”
That doesn’t explicitly mention “ex-gay” therapy; after the statement resurfaced when Pence became Donald Trump’s running mate in 2016, some readers of fact-checking site PolitiFact noted that Pence could have meant programs encouraging abstinence or safer-sex practices. Given Pence’s record, the idea that he would support abstinence is plausible, but safer sex, not so much. But it’s also plausible that he would support conversion therapy, although he didn’t have the power to fund it outright, or at least send a dog whistle about it to religious conservatives.
As a member of the U.S. House from 2001 to 2013, Pence supported a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, opposed LGBT-inclusive hate-crimes legislation, and opposed repealing “don’t ask, don’t tell” — and at one point even supported reverting to the even stricter military gay ban that DADT replaced.
He also opposed the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. “By extending the reach of federal law to cover sexual orientation, employment discrimination protections, in effect, can wage war on the free exercise of religion in the workplace,” he said on the House floor in 2007.
Then, while governor of Indiana, a post he held from 2013 to 2017, he signed into law the state’s infamous Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which critics said would allow businesses to deny goods and services to LGBT people and others who offend a proprietor’s religious sensibilities. Public outcry and boycotts followed his signing of the law in 2015, and it had to be amended so as to ostensibly not allow discrimination.
As vice president, he has reportedly been the champion of the transgender military ban, which Trump is seeking to reinstate, an action temporarily blocked by courts. Pence “has been spearheading the trans ban reinstatement since last May, at the behest of conservative leaders such as Tony Perkins, head of the Family Research Council, and scores of retired anti-LGBT military officers,” the Los Angeles Blade reported in August.
“I don’t think he has a real concept of reality,” Rippon told USA Today of Pence. “To stand by some of the things that Donald Trump has said and for Mike Pence to say he’s a devout Christian man is completely contradictory. If he’s OK with what’s being said about people and Americans and foreigners and about different countries that are being called ‘shitholes,’ I think he should really go to church.”
The figure skater added that he might be willing to meet with Pence after his event. “There might be a possibility to have an open conversation,” Rippon said. “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 has also said he won’t attend a post-Olympics celebration Trump plans to host at the White House.