Mike Pence Goes to the Olympics
In 2014, the International Olympic Committee adopted a proposal to include sexual orientation in the Olympic Charter’s non-discrimination principle. The impetus for the resolution was Russia’s homophobic crackdown on LGBT+ citizens. Just before the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, over 50 former and then-current Olympic athletes urged the Russian government to reconsider its law that outlawed “gay propaganda,” a law that engendered an astronomical increase in homophobic violence throughout the country. In November of last year, Russia, as well as Egypt, refused to sign the Olympic Charter because of the non-discrimination language.
The issue of human rights surfaced again recently when President Trump appointed Vice President Pence to lead the U.S. Olympic delegation to Pyeongchang. Pence is perhaps the most homophobic politician in public life. As governor of Indiana, Pence proposed taking money used for HIV/ AIDS research and using it to fund gay conversion therapy. He once argued marriage equality would result in “societal collapse” and opposed the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” He also harshly criticized President Obama for supporting transgender rights. Pence, a fundamentalist Christian, also endorses “religious freedom” legislation.
Trump’s selection of Pence to lead the delegation to S. Korea has garnered harsh criticism from many quarters. Adam Rippon, the 2016 U.S. men’s figure skating champion who is believed to be the first openly gay U.S. Winter Olympian, criticized the choice in an interview with USA Today, “You mean Mike Pence, the same Mike Pence that funded gay conversion therapy? Mike Pence doesn’t stand for anything that I really believe in.”
Rippon also stated he has no desire to meet Pence at the traditional meeting before the opening ceremonies between athletes and the head of the delegation. Rippon further said he will not attend the post games visit to the White House to meet the President.
Having a homophobe like Pence lead the U.S. Olympic delegation is an affront to the spirit of the Olympic Charter’s commitment to human rights. But after a year of Trump, the rest of the world should not be surprised by the hypocrisy of the current administration. Trump & Co. have repeatedly demonstrated an utter lack of respect, if not a contemptuous disdain, for human rights and civil liberties.
The irony of all this is that the Olympics is, and always has been, very, very gay. If we could transport Mike Pence back in time to the Olympics in ancient Greece, he would be greeted by all male (mostly teenage) athletes, fully naked, oiled up, and ready to wrestle.
Jason Anthony, a blogger for Huffpost, has observed, “In the Olympic victory poem for Hagesidamos — boxing champ of the 476 BCE games — the poet compares his beauty to Ganymede, Zeus’ male lover. Theognis of Megara had this to say what happened after the game: ‘Happy is the lover who, after spending time in the gymnasium, goes home to sleep all day long with a beautiful, young man’.”
But what about the modern Olympics? Three words: two-man luge.