Adam Rippon, who has risen to a level most athletes never dream of and has performed on the world’s stage in an elite competition, has decided to turn what should be a proud moment for his country into a political statement about his sexual identity as a gay person.
Rippon, 28, is one of the first openly gay American men to compete in the Winter Olympics. He began ice skating at age 10, and publicly came out as gay when he was 25. He struggled with his sexual identity growing up, and has said he hasn’t found the world to be a welcoming place (although he did win the 2008 and 2009 World Junior Championships).
In a USA Today interview leading up to the 2018 Olympics, Rippon was asked for his opinion of Vice President Mike Pence, who is not exactly beloved by the gay community, because he is personally opposed to gay marriage.
“You mean Mike Pence, the same Mike Pence that funded gay conversion therapy?” Rippon told USA Today of his role leading the American delegation. “I’m not buying it.” Those comments set off a back and forth between himself and Pence, who reportedly extended an invitation to meet with Rippon at the games, and later tweeted out a message of support for him.
Rippon says he declined the meeting, and doubled down on his negative opinion of the Trump administration in follow up interviews. Pence, for his part, says the invitation was never extended.
“I personally don’t have anything to say to Mike Pence,” Rippon told ABC News of the reported invitation. “I’m very lucky because legislation that he’s pushed hasn’t affected my life at all.” He has also said he would boycott a U.S. Olympic team visit to the White House, because he doesn’t think someone like him would be “welcome there.”
“I have no desire to go to the White House,” he told The Daily Mail. “But I would like to do something to help my community.”
Rippon and many in the LGBT community seem to have accepted the idea that both Trump and Pence are anti-LGBT fanatics bent on intentionally harming gay people, though there is no real evidence to support this media-fueled caricature.
He acknowledges that he has not experienced anything negative because of the legislation Pence … never passed. Yet somehow seems to believe people were harmed by an unsuccessful legislative push.
Rippon is “speaking out” against Pence’s perceived views, but not any concrete measure or impact from them. He is not “lucky” that Pence’s hypothetical agenda never impacted him, because it never impacted anyone in a meaningful way. And his refusal to even talk to Pence is strange, given the opportunity it would give him to speak to a powerful man on behalf of the LGBT community. Instead, he’s using his voice on the world stage to build out the myth of Pence as a gay-hater.
It’s remarkable Rippon can be personally encouraged by the Vice President of the United States, and still believe he would be unwelcome at the White House. The Left has convinced members of the LGBT community that only people who fully support progressive LGBT policies can be friends of the gay community. Anyone who opposes any policy is presumed a hateful bigot. The tangible result of this is a profound and debilitating anxiety and sense of fear and paranoia that Rippon seems to have bought into. A man, praised by the world, the media and the White House is too uncomfortable with the possibility of feeling unwelcome to embrace his status as a celebrated United States Olympic athlete.
Rippon illustrates how identity politics reduces people to their most useful categories and convinces them they must collect together with their respective tribes for safety from oppression. His insistence that rejecting the White House equates to supporting the LGBT community demonstrates how deep this tribalism runs, and how it leaves no room for open-mindedness or outreach — only certainty and avoidance.
Adam Rippon is an LGBT icon and hero today. In a time when a gay man stands out as a world-wide inspiration, embraced by the whole of the media and encouraged by the most conservative voices in our society, we should be celebrating this. Instead we are reliving the same victim-mindset we have seen replayed for decades, as if nothing has changed.
His community is celebrating him, not for his talent or performance, but almost entirely for his resistance against the anti-progressive villain of the day. Rippon’s athletic accomplishments are getting swallowed up by his identity as the ‘gay athlete’ that shouted back at the anti-LGBT White House and bravely stood in defiance of their hate, rather than an athlete who has achieved his goals.
Had Rippon simply walked onto the world’s stage as himself without the impulse to explain, defend or preemptively strike, he might have found a country eager for his success. We all would have cheered him on and celebrated his achievement as an American, even if we disagree with him in some policy areas.
Unfortunately, he chose the path of the righteous liberal warrior. It is my hope that the next time around gay athletes will simply understand they are celebrated for their talent and focus less on their sexuality. All we care about is how they perform in their field and we prefer not to be lectured to on diversity and tolerance.
Identity politics only manufactures anxiety, a sense of otherness and paranoia of how “they” might see you. In our day and age, this worldview is simply no longer needed, productive or helpful to our society and we should reject it at every opportunity.