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First openly queer US Olympic athletes clash with Vice President

With the start of the The Winter Olympics in South Korea last Thursday comes political tension amongst the United States team and Vice President Mike Pence.

The 2018 Games are the first time in Olympic history that the US has openly queer athletes competing. Gus Kenworthy, a freestyle and slopestyle skier, and Adam Rippon, a figure skater, are the first gay men to represent America in the Games.

However, the two athletes, specifically Rippon, have clashed with the Vice President’s involvement at the games, as he is the Official Delegate leading the United States.

In late January, Rippon criticized Pence’s role in the Olympics, stating, “You mean Mike Pence, the same Mike Pence that funded gay conversion therapy? … I’m not buying it.” Rippon is referencing Pence’s reaction to an act that provides federal funding to H.I.V. and AIDS patients. “Resources should be directed toward those institutions which provide assistance to those seeking to change their sexual behavior” Pence stated in regards to the Ryan White Care Act. 

On Wed, Feb. 7, Pence tweeted: “Headed to the Olympics to cheer on #TeamUSA. One reporter trying to distort 18 yr old nonstory 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.” A few minutes later he tweeted again, writing to Rippon, “@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!”

After Rippon’s interview in January, reports swirled that Pence requested to have a meeting with Rippon to try and smooth things over and avoid further criticism. Rippon refused to meet with the Vice President, but Pence’s team denies that the request for a meeting was ever made.

Kenworthy also directly criticized Pence in an Instagram post. He shared a photo of himself and Rippon with the caption “The #OpeningCeremony is a wrap and the 2018 Winter Olympic Gaymes are officially under way! I feel incredibly honored to be here in Korea competing for the US and I’m so proud to be representing the LGBTQ community alongside this amazing guy! Eat your heart out, Pence. #TeamUSA #TeamUSGay.”

Kenworthy, 26, who took home a silver medal in slopestyle in the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, will be competing in multiple events during the game. These include men’s moguls, aerials, freeski slopestyle, freeski halfpipe, and ski cross.

Rippon, 28, will be competing in multiple team events and the men’s single skating. Although this is first Olympic Games, Rippon has an impressive record to uphold as the 2016 National Champion and 2010 Four Continents Champion.

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