Hillary Clinton isn’t quite ready to sit still on the sidelines in U.S. politics — but she’s more than happy to watch the Winter Olympics from there.
“I have to tell you, I shut my eyes [watching] the luge or the skeleton; that’s too scary,” Clinton said to laughs at the Makers Conference — a summit focused on women’s issues — on Feb. 7 in New York City. “But I will open [my eyes] to see who’s won.”
After giving a rousing speech encouraging women to speak up and hit the voting booths in the 2018 midterms, Clinton was asked by Makers founder Dylan McGee what she was most looking forward to about the Pyeongchang Olympic Games in South Korea, which start Feb. 9.
The former secretary of state didn’t hesitate to weigh in on a couple of athletes who have recently made waves in the political realm.
“I love the athleticism and the stories of our athletes,” Clinton said. “I’m excited that Adam Rippon and Gus Kenworthy will be the first openly gay Olympians for the American team.”
The conference crowd roared in approval of the history-making Americans.
Rippon, a 28-year-old figure skater, will represent Team USA on the ice.
And Kenworthy, a 26-year-old skier, will rock the red, white, and blue on the slopes.
Clinton’s embrace of America’s first openly gay male Olympians at the Winter Games comes amid a contentious back and forth between Rippon and Vice President Mike Pence.
Pence was picked by the White House to lead the U.S. Olympic delegation in South Korea. And Rippon wasn’t on board with the decision.
“You mean Mike Pence, the same Mike Pence that funded gay conversion therapy?” Rippon told USA Today, citing the vice president’s cozy past with the harmful and homophobic practice. “I’m not buying it.”
Pence’s team responded to Rippon’s accusation that the vice president once supported conversion therapy by claiming Rippon’s remarks were “totally false and has no basis in fact.” On Feb. 7, Pence himself tweeted that “one reporter [is] trying to distort [an] 18-year-old non-story to sow seeds of division.”
Pence’s position on the issue in 2000, however, contradicts that defense.
“Resources should be directed toward those institutions which provide assistance to those seeking to change their sexual behavior,” his congressional campaign website had read. It’s difficult to read that as anything but his support of gay conversion therapy.
Rippon’s comments had concerned the vice president so much, Pence took the extraordinary step of reaching out to the athlete to arrange a meeting, according to USA Today.
Much to the delight of many LGBTQ advocates online, however, the figure skater rejected Pence’s offer. In a tweet on Jan. 20, Rippon suggested he may be open to speaking to the vice president after the competition in South Korea, but for now, he “personally [has] nothing to say to Mike Pence.”
Kenworthy also took offense with the White House’s decision to deem Pence the Olympic delegation leader. Sitting down with Ellen DeGeneres earlier in February, the skiier called the vice president “a bad fit” to lead Team USA: “I feel like the Olympics is all about inclusion and people coming together, and it seems like [Pence is] not really doing that.”
He makes a great point.
Why should anyone feel pressured to respect a political leader who’s railed against their rights for decades on end?
Clinton’s admiration for the athletes — on and off the ice — struck quite a different chord.
“I’m going to be there cheering [Rippon and Kenworthy] on,” she said to applause at the Makers summit. “Whether it’s skating or skiing or anything else.”