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Sports

Gay Figure Skater Adam Rippon Stands by Criticism of Mike Pence Ahead of Winter Olympics

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Figure skating champion and future Olympian Adam Rippon is standing by comments published Wednesday by USA Today in which he lambasted Vice President Mike Pence, in part for Pence’s position on LGBT rights.

“I don’t think he has a real concept of reality,” Rippon, who will compete on Team USA, said of Pence, who will lead the American Olympic delegation at the Winter Games in South Korea next month.

“To stand by some of the things that [President] Donald Trump has said and for Mike Pence to say he’s a devout Christian man is completely contradictory,” Rippon explained. “If he’s okay with what’s being said about people and Americans and foreigners and about different countries that are being called ‘s—holes,’ I think he should really go to church.”

Rippon was referring to widely reported comments that Trump made in a meeting last week with multiple Congressmen about immigration laws, denigrating countries such as Haiti in comparison with Norway — an account the White House did not immediately deny.

Later, however, Trump said he did not use that vulgarity, instead saying he used “tough” language.

Speaking with USA Today, Rippon said he wants to skip the standard meet-and-greet event between Team USA athletes and the American delegation led by Pence.

“You mean Mike Pence, the same Mike Pence that funded gay conversion therapy?” said Rippon, 28, who publicly came out as gay in 2015. “I’m not buying it.”

In a statement to PEOPLE, Pence’s press secretary, Alyssa Farah, said that he does not and has never supported such therapy. “The accusation is totally false with no basis in fact,” Farah 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.”

Adam Rippon
Tim Bradbury/Getty

“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.”

In her statement, Farrah, Pence’s press secretary, told PEOPLE: “The vice president is proud to lead the U.S. delegation to the Olympics and support America’s incredible athletes.”

“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.

Speaking to PEOPLE, Rippon says he stands by his quotes to USA Today.

“I just don’t think that’s right,” he says, “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,” he says.

Mike Pence
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Still, Rippon stressed to USA Today that, “I will continue to share my story, but I will participate in no form of protest [during the Games].”

“I’m representing myself and my country on the world stage,” he said. “I have a lot of respect for this opportunity. What makes America great is that we’re all so different. It’s 2018 and being an openly gay man and an athlete, that is part of the face of America now.”

Rippon is widely described as being the first openly gay American athlete at the Winter Olympics.

“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,” he tells PEOPLE. “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.”

“It’s so amazing,” he continues, “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.

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