Vice President Mike Pence claims he has never supported conversion therapy in response to criticism of his anti-LGBTQ past from openly gay Olympian Adam Rippon.
In a Jan. 17 interview with USA Today, Rippon condemned the selection of Pence to lead the U.S. delegation to the Winter Olympics, held in Pyeongchang, South Korea. The first openly gay athlete to earn a spot on the U.S. team in the quadrennial event, he told the publication he would not be attending a customary meet-and-greet held prior to the commencement ceremony.
“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,” Rippon said. “I wouldn’t go out of my way to meet somebody like that.”
As evidence of that claim, the figure skater pointed to Pence’s oft-cited support of conversion therapy during his 2000 run for Congress.
“I don’t think he has a real concept of reality,” Rippon said.
A spokesperson for the vice president, Alyssa Farah, referred to the Olympian’s characterization of his LGBTQ rights record as “false” in a statement provided to USA Today.
“The vice president is proud to lead the U.S. delegation to the Olympics and support America’s incredible athletes,” Farah claimed. “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.”
But the vice president’s stance on a discredited practice often likened to “torture” remains an open question.
When Pence successfully ran for the House of Representatives 18 years ago, his campaign website allegedly advocated for the diversion of HIV/AIDS funding to programs “which provide assistance to those seeking to change their sexual behavior.” Critics have read this ambiguous statement as an endorsement of conversion therapy, in which therapists attempt to “change” the orientation or gender identity of LGBTQ youth.
“Pence’s words could be interpreted as supporting groups that aim to not necessarily change one’s sexual orientation, but instead as supporting groups that advocate for curbing sexual behaviors that lead to the spread of HIV/AIDS,” wrote Politifact in a report rating the accusations “half true.”
A spokesperson for Pence previously told the Washington Post that Pence meant to advocate that resources “be directed to groups that promoted safe sexual practices.” The vice president is a staunch supporter of abstinence-only sexual education.
What is hardly up for debate, however, is Rippon’s assertion that Pence is no “friend” to the LGBTQ community.
The vice president signed a “religious freedom” bill as governor of Indiana allowing people of faith to discriminate against members of the LGBTQ community based on their “sincerely held religious belief,” although the law was later “fixed” to excise anti-gay language. Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act reportedly cost the state more than $60 million.
Pence also presided over one of Indiana’s deadliest HIV outbreaks, a crisis which resulted from his own policies on public health care.
In his conversation with USA Today, Rippon claimed he might be “open” to having a dialogue on these subjects with Pence after he competes in the February gameswhere he will be appearing with fellow openly gay Olympian Gus Kenworthy.
“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 claimed. “[…] 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.”
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