The two men, who quickly became friends after learning they are the only two openly gay men on Team USA at the PyeongChang Olympics, discussed their Winter Games experience on Friday’s episode of the Today show.
“I came here being authentically myself and sharing my story and being gay is part of that, but I came here as an American athlete” remarked Rippon, who made history when he became the first openly gay American athlete to win a medal during the figure skating team event.
Despite not finding a way onto the podium during the men’s individual event, Rippon competed in the free skate as part of the figure skating team event, where he helped Team USA clinch the bronze medal.
“Mike Pence doesn’t stand for anything that I was taught when I grew up, and I think that it’s important if you’re given the platform to speak up for those who don’t have a voice.” @Adaripp tells @craigmelvin pic.twitter.com/w3No1ksMq4
— TODAY (@TODAYshow) February 23, 2018
The 29-year-old figure skater has not shied away from the role fame gives him as an advocate for the broader LGBTQ community — he has been in the headlines ever since speaking out in a January interview with USA Today about President Donald Trump’s policies toward the LGBTQ community, calling out Vice President Mike Pence
“I came here to do a job, and I think that being vocal has kind of given my skating more importance,” he told reporters after his performance during the team competition. “It’s not just for me. I got out there because — it’s not just gay kids, I think that everybody can relate to being different or feeling like they’re not good enough or they’ll never make it because they’re from a small town, or maybe they just don’t feel like they’re good enough.”
And even though Rippon turned down the opportunity to talk with Pence at the time because the athlete wanted to stay focused on the competition, during his Today interview he said that he’d “totally” have a conversation with the Vice President now.
“I feel that Mike Pence doesn’t stand for anything that I was taught when I grew up, and I think that it’s important if you’re given the platform to speak up for those who don’t have a voice,” he added.
And although Kenworthy competed in the Sochi Games four years ago — where he won a silver medal during the men’s slopestyle event — he said that at the time, “I was very much in the closet and very much ashamed of who I was and I actually didn’t get to appreciate the medal I won because of that.”
“I didn’t know if the gay skier would be an image that anyone would want to get behind and support,” he continued.
The 26-year-old came out publicly in October 2015, on the cover of ESPN the Magazine and remains the most visible LGBT action sports competitor in the country.
And while he may have been worried about losing support, the skier revealed that he came into the 2018 Winter Olympics “with the most Olympic deals of any athletes.”
Rippon also added that he thought a lot was being made about the pair’s sexuality “because people still, on some level, have a problem .”
Speaking about the backlash over the kiss he shared with his boyfriend, actor Matthew Wilkas, before competing in
the men’s ski slopestyle final this year — where he finished in last place — Kenworthy said, “People were like, ‘We get it, we don’t need to see it though. I don’t care what you do behind closed doors, but don’t put it in my face.’ ”
“And it’s kind of like, well my entire life in movies and commercials in public, everywhere, you see straight heterosexual love and that’s completely fine because it’s normal, but us also showing the same type of affection isn’t shoving it in your face, it’s just us existing,” he continued.
“It’s just the human experience,” Rippon added.
Kenworthy went on to add that he hoped all the “love and encouragement” that he and Rippon received throughout the 2018 Winter Olympics will help other athletes come out.
“Hopefully people will see the reaction that we got, because I feel like we were so supported during these Games and had so much love and encouragement, that it will provide people the solace they need to want to come forward themselves,” he said.
The 2018 Winter Olympics are airing live on NBC. To learn more, visit teamusa.org.