The media have been incessantly covering the strange “dispute” between openly-gay Olympic figure skater Adam Rippon and Vice President Mike Pence, with Rippon’s refusal to meet with Pence during the Pyeongchang Olympics attracting quite a bit of attention.
There’s a world in which Rippon, 28, can certainly be commended for standing up for what he believes, though there’s also a sad reality at the core of his very refusal to speak with Pence: it’s representative of all that’s wrong with our national discourse. Some writers have openly praised Rippon’s stance and have seemingly agreed with his decision not to entertain Pence, but I take a starkly different view.
The VP has had little effect on my own life. I didn’t speak up for myself, I spoke up because it’s important to give a voice to those who feel they don’t have one.
— Adam Rippon (@Adaripp) January 20, 2018
It’s certainly Rippon’s right not to be associated with the vice-president, but during a time in which our entire nation seems intensely bent on obsessing over identity politics and the elements that divide us, such a public display of isolation during one of the only international events that unites our ever-fractured world is, to me, a bit troubling. At the least, it’s a lost opportunity.
To briefly recap: The bizarre back-and-forth between Rippon and Pence started back in January when Rippon lambasted the White House’s decision to send Pence to lead the 2018 U.S. Olympic delegation in South Korea, as USA Today reported at the time.
Rippon accused Pence of funding “gay conversion therapy,” the controversial practice of trying to change someone’s sexual orientation, and said that he had no interest in meeting with Pence during a meet-and-greet that proceeded the opening ceremony (a sentence on a Pence campaign site in 2000 read, “Resources should be directed toward those institutions which provide assistance to those seeking to change their sexual behavior” — a statement viewed by critics as an endorsement of conversion therapy).
I will let the VP’s words speak for themselves. You can very easily find these quotes and more online. His position and intentions are clear. pic.twitter.com/XmH0v9pqua
— Adam Rippon (@Adaripp) January 20, 2018
Pence has denied that he endorsed the practice, though, and his team has, instead, said that he was speaking of organizations that encourage safe sex practices. Either way, Rippon made it clear that he wanted nothing to do with the vice-president.
“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,” he said. “I wouldn’t go out of my way to meet somebody like that.”
Rippon went further, saying he doesn’t believe that Pence has “a real concept of reality” and criticized the vice-president for standing by some of President Donald Trump’s rhetoric. The skater said that Pence’s claim that he is a strong Christian “is completely contradictory” in light of what he’s stood by concerning Trump.
“If he’s okay with what’s being said about people and Americans and foreigners and about different countries that are being called ‘sh**holes,’ I think he should really go to church,” Rippon said.
.@Adaripp I want you to know we are FOR YOU. Don’t let fake news distract you. I am proud of you and ALL OF OUR GREAT athletes and my only hope for you and all of #TeamUSA is to bring home the gold. Go get ‘em!
— Vice President Mike Pence (@VP) February 8, 2018
While the details are murky, Rippon also reportedly denied another potential meeting with Pence earlier this month. The vice-president, clearly responding to the headlines about the two men, later tweeted at Rippon directly and wrote, “I want you to know we are FOR YOU. Don’t let fake news distract you. I am proud of you and ALL OF OUR GREAT athletes and my only hope for you and all of #TeamUSA is to bring home the gold. Go get ‘em!”
It was a clear olive branch, but it didn’t seem to do much. Again, disagreement over these sensitive issues is understandable, but was the handling of it appropriate or worth praising? I’d say, not really. In an interview with GQ in early February, Rippon was asked about a potential “open conversation” with Pence after the Olympics, something he seemed to warm up to.
“Here’s the thing: I have nothing to say to him. I’m very lucky that Mike Pence has had little to no effect on my life. If we were to meet, I would want to bring people whose lives have been changed by legislation he has pushed. As a member of the LGBT community, I want to speak out, because he’s spoken about people like me,” he said. “If the opportunity arises later for me to have a conversation with him, it’s not for me. It’s for the people who have real stories to tell about why they need to be heard, and why they deserve to be treated as equal American citizens, just like any other person.”
It’s great that there is apparent openness to speaking with Pence at some point in the future, but why delay it? Why was a conversation or a meet-and-greet not possible during the Olympics?
Even the appearance of refusing to meet over ideology is somewhat tragic, as it feeds into the broader pattern of people on both sides of the aisle who now feel that self-isolating and refusing to interact with those with whom they disagree is an appropriate response when confronted with splinters in perspective.
Life is complicated and issues like same-sex attraction are tough to navigate. But Rippon and Pence are two very public figures at the center of international headlines who were perfectly situated to set an amazing example for what can happen when two people of divergent views come together and show respect for one another, despite their intense disagreement.
Perhaps Rippon didn’t want Pence to distract him from his Olympic game; perhaps he simply didn’t want to take attention away from the games. That’s understandable, but it’s still a missed opportunity.
Our culture desperately needs examples of civility, as it is currently thriving and relishing in the elements that separate. Many refusals to speak with ideological opponents are simply the sad result of an embrace of the perpetuated lie that our ideological foes are too bad, too evil, too disconnected from our moral framework to hear out.
That’s bad for our republic and its an impediment for our souls. Let’s be better.