USA Today reported Wednesday that, according to two sources, Rippon declined a meeting with Pence that the vice president tried to arrange with the help of the U.S. Olympic Committee.
On Wednesday night, Pence, who will lead the official U.S. delegation to the 2018 Winter Olympics opening ceremony on Friday, sent the following tweet:
Rippon’s mother, Kelly Rippon, defended her son on CNN on Thursday. She insisted that he did not “refuse” to meet with Pence, but preferred to wait until after he competes.
“I believe that you can say it many different ways. I don’t think he ever said ‘I refuse to do that,’ because that suggests a tone of intolerance and inflexibility,” she said.
“He conveyed to whomever, I don’t know the individuals, that any kind of communication would have to be done after the competition is over,” Rippon’s mother added.
Rippon hadn’t responded to Pence’s text as of Thursday morning, but he publicly criticized the vice president in a Jan. 17 USA Today story.
“You mean Mike Pence, the same Mike Pence that funded gay conversion therapy?” Rippon told the paper. “I’m not buying it.”
Rippon went on to say he’d rather not meet the vice president during the traditional meet-and-greet between the official delegation and U.S. Olympians that occurs before the opening ceremony.
“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, pointing to Pence’s reported support of ex-gay “conversion” therapy while serving in Congress.
Rippon’s comments inspired Pence’s press secretary Alyssa Farah to send a rebuttal, claiming “Rippon’s accusation is totally false and has no basis in fact,” adding that the vice president “will be enthusiastically supporting all the U.S. athletes competing next month in Pyeongchang.”
Snopes points out that Pence has never publicly advocated gay conversion therapy, but once supported the use of federal funding to treat people “seeking to change their sexual behavior.”
The 28-year-old Rippon is the first openly gay U.S. man to qualify for the Winter Olympics, though a number of Olympic figure skaters have come out as members of the LGBTQ community after their competitive days have ended.
This story has been updated to include Pence’s tweet and Kelly Rippon’s CNN interview.