Openly gay figure skater Adam Rippon turned down an offer to meet with Mike Pence weeks after lambasting the vice president for his position on LGBT rights
Adam Rippon, openly gay figure skating champion, reportedly turned down an offer to meet with Mike Pence after lambasting him for his position on LGBT rights — prompting the vice president to publicly respond.
According to a report published by USA Today on Wednesday, a member of Pence’s staff reached out to the U.S. Olympic Committee to set up a conversation between the 58-year-old politician and the 28-year-old athlete back in January.
The alleged request came the same day USA Today published an interview with Rippon in which he said he wanted to skip the standard meet-and-greet event between Team USA athletes and the American delegation, which is being led by Pence for this year’s opening ceremony.
“You mean Mike Pence, the same Mike Pence that funded gay conversion therapy?” Rippon, who publicly came out as gay in 2015, said in the Jan. 17 piece. “I’m not buying it.”
Jarrod Agen, the vice president’s deputy chief of staff and communications director, refuted that a meeting was requested in a statement given to PEOPLE.
“The USA Today report is false and should be corrected. The vice president’s office did not reach out to set up a conversation with Mr. Rippon,” Agen said. “As we’ve said before, the Vice President is supporting all the U.S. athletes in the Olympics and is hoping they all win medals. But this story is just not accurate.”
A rep for Rippon declined to comment to PEOPLE on the USA Today report, as did USOC officials.
In a statement to PEOPLE back in January, Pence’s press secretary, Alyssa Farah, said that the vice president does not and has never supported conversion therapy. “The accusation is totally false with no basis in fact,” Farah said.
“Despite these misinformed claims [about conversion therapy], the vice president will be enthusiastically supporting all the U.S. athletes competing next month in Pyeongchang,” Farrah said.
But LGBT advocates have pointed to a 2000 statement on Pence’s congressional campaign website where he noted that Congress should reauthorize a law funding HIV/AIDS treatment but “resources should be directed toward those institutions which provide assistance to those seeking to change their sexual behavior.”
Beyond the issue of gay conversion therapy, Pence — a self-described religious conservative — has taken multiple anti-LGBT positions over the years.
“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,” Rippon told USA Today. “I wouldn’t go out of my way to meet somebody like that.”
Pence also responded, himself, to USA Today‘s latest report on Wednesday, taking a cue from President Donald Trump’s playbook and calling their claims “fake news.”
“Headed to the Olympics to cheer on #TeamUSA,” he tweeted. “One reporter trying to distort 18 yr old non-story to sow seeds of division. We won’t let that happen! #FAKENEWS. Our athletes are the best in the world and we are for ALL of them! #TEAMUSA”
He also wrote to Rippon directly on Twitter, saying, “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!”
In his original conversation with USA Today, Rippon said he would be open to meeting with Pence after the Olympic games.
“If I had the chance to meet him [Pence] afterwards, after I’m finished competing, 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.”
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Rippon stood by his views when speaking to PEOPLE.
“I just don’t think that’s right,” he said, “and I think there are so many people who also don’t think that’s right and I think right now more than ever I have this window of time to say what I feel and hopefully make a change.”
“My mom has always taught me to stand up for people who don’t have a voice,” Rippon added. “Sharing my story [coming out] in 2015, I remember thinking if just one person hears this and reads it and it makes them feel like they aren’t alone, that would be awesome. Now to be headed to the Olympics, my story now has a bigger platform and I’ve heard from so many different kinds of people.”
He continued: “It’s so amazing and it makes me feel like coming out — it was way more important than I even realized.”
The 2018 Winter Olympics will air live starting Feb. 8 on NBC. To learn more, visit teamusa.org.
• Reporting by ADAM CARLSON