In Trump’s America, truth matters more than ever.
And that’s why you can put me down on Team Adam Rippon.
For those of you yet unafflicted by Olympic Fever, Rippon, an American figure skater and the first openly gay athlete in US Winter Olympics history, has quickly become the media darling of the Pyeongchang Olympics. On Monday night (on that side of the world), he skated a near flawless performance to help the United States to a bronze medal in the team skating competition.
But Rippon has been making plenty of headlines off the ice — not just with his charismatic and charming media appearances, but also in his willingness to express his opinion about the American political leaders who continue to wage war on LGBT rights.
Two weeks ago, in an interview with USA Today, Rippon was asked about the selection of Vice President Mike Pence as head of the US delegation to the Olympic Games.
“You mean Mike Pence, the same Mike Pence that funded gay conversion therapy?” Rippon said. “I’m not buying it.”
According to Rippon, “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.”
When reports surfaced two weeks later that Pence had asked for a meeting with Rippon to clear the air (reports the VP’s office denied), Rippon stuck to his guns and said he had no interest in meeting Pence.
Rippon’s claims about Pence’s support for gay conversion therapy comes from a passage on Pence’s 2000 congressional campaign website that called for resources to be “directed toward those institutions which provide assistance to those seeking to change their sexual behavior.”
Pence has denied he supports conversion therapy, which has long been discredited, but it’s not as if Pence’s bigotry on LGBT issues is hard to discern.
As governor of Indiana, Pence infamously signed a law a bill that allowed Indianans to refuse service to gay and transgender people. After a national outcry he was forced to beat a hasty retreat. In Congress, Pence voted against protecting LGBT Americans from employment discrimination protections, opposed the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” and has been long-time opponent of same-sex marriage.
Today he’s a member of a presidential administration that is actively seeking to enshrine into law the treatment of LGBT Americans as second class citizens. The Justice Department, under Attorney General Jeff Sessions, has withdrawn policies that safeguard the rights of transgender workers. Trump himself has sought to restore the ban on transgender Americans serving in the military. Sessions has also offered his support for a private lawsuit that argues discrimination against gay Americans in the workplace should be legal and has offered words of support to businesses that refuse service to LGBT customers.
Just this week, the Education Department announced it won’t take any action on complaints from transgender students banned from using restrooms that match their gender identity.
It’s small wonder that Rippon has said about Pence, “as a member of the LGBT community, I want to speak out, because he’s spoken about people like me.” I surely wouldn’t want to normalize someone seeking to take away my rights as a Jewish American or who had backed efforts to use public resources to convert Jews to Christianity, so when Adam Rippon, as a gay American, wants to take the same position in regard to Mike Pence, he’s got my support.
There will be those who will argue that Rippon is politicizing the Olympics, but in our current political environment, in which Trump and Pence have openly and flagrantly politicized NFL player protests against the national anthem, that train has clearly left the station. Why should Rippon — who has said that if given “the platform and the opportunity to share my story and make it easier for others, I would” — hold his tongue when Pence and Trump are using pro athletes as punching bags?
At a time when the Trump administration is systematically working to chip away the rights of LGBT Americans — and waging a daily assault on truth and deriding any story they don’t like as “fake news” — having that platform means also speaking truth to power. I’m quite sure that Adam Rippon would rather be spending his time focused on trying to win a gold medal or extending his Twitter-romance with Reese Witherspoon. I’m sure he’d rather live in a society in which being a gay Olympian is no more noteworthy than being a straight Olympian. I’m sure the last thing he wants to be doing, and the last thing that any of us should be doing during the majesty of the Olympics, is talking politics. But alas, that’s not the world we live in today. None of us have the luxury of sitting out.
America today needs honesty and candor more than ever, and it needs prominent individuals — in every sphere of American life — who are willing to state basic facts. After all, truth matters, no matter who is voicing it.Michael A. Cohen’s column appears regularly in the Globe. Follow him on Twitter @speechboy71.