Olympic figure skating bronze medalist Adam Rippon is not just an athlete. He’s an artist, an activist, and has quickly became a queer icon.
Winning the heart of America and the world at the 2018 Winter Olympics, Rippon is known for his candor and wit, and his rise to fame on the global stage has provided him with a platform to speak out in support of LGBTQ rights and the freedom to be oneself. His charm and passion has made him an inspiration to the young and old alike.
The oldest of six children from Scranton, Pennsylvania, Rippon rose through the skating ranks and claimed the world junior title twice before winning the U.S. men’s title in 2016. In addition to his win at the 2018 Winter Olympics, he was recently named one of TIME’s 100 Most Influential People and was honored by the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) with their Visibility Award. He is working with the GLAAD Campus Ambassadors Program through an online fundraising campaign and received the Best of the Best Champion Award from the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce.
Want even more? He is currently touring the country with Stars on Ice, most recently won Dancing with the Stars, and will be hosting the upcoming Trevor Project gala, TrevorLIVE in NYC on June 11. Rippon does not plan to slow down any time soon, and OUT FRONT chatted with him a bit about LGBTQ youth, confidence, and his mom.
Thank you for taking the time out of your busy schedule to chat with me today, Adam.
My pleasure! I’m just out here on my balcony eating M&Ms.
I love M&Ms . If you were an M&M, which color would you be?
My answer to that is, I think I would either be the red one because he’s iconic and the most famous, or the green one because she’s like kind of slutty and I love that about her.
Excellent choice! Now, let’s start off by talking about the Olympics. Why do you think being an openly gay Olympian made such a significant impact?
Besides the fact that I’m openly gay, I may be a little more flamboyant, but I’m being myself.
I feel like a lot of people say I have this take-it-or-leave-it sort of mentality, and I do, but I think what really resonated with people and connected with a lot of people is that I don’t feel like I have ever asked anyone to like me. I always assumed that people would. When I assumed people would like me, I wasn’t asking for their approval. I was presenting myself to the world—telling them ‘you are going to like me’.
I wasn’t expecting the attention, but I was ready for it because when you go into the Olympics, anything can happen. I think more than anything, more than being an out athlete, it’s important to speak up for things you think are important.
You have also been labeled as the first openly gay Olympian. What does that mean to you?
There have obviously been other gay athletes before, but I don’t think they were comfortable to come out and compete at the same time. Those athletes have given people the confidence that they can be successful no matter who you are. I wanted to show that you can be successful and out—it doesn’t matter.
Being the first was just the luck of the draw. Gus Kenworthy and I competed at the same Olympics but being one of the first openly gay men to compete at the Winter Olympics, I hope it makes those in later competitions embrace who they are as athletes. You can do anything; it’s self-empowerment. It’s incredible.
I can’t tell you what a big difference it was for me pre-coming out and post-coming out. I wouldn’t have the confidence to do crazy things and push myself. I’m not afraid of what other people think of me. I don’t care. I’m doing things I think are cool, and that’s important to me. That’s what I need to focus on.
Where does that passion come from?
My passion and my drive to pursue goals come from my mom. When I was young, my mom taught me that if you want to do something, you must do it at 100 percent. It didn’t matter if we were bad; we just had to give it our best. My mom reminded me of that all the time. She reminded us that hard work would pay off and she instilled in us that anything is possible if you dream it. Go after your dreams.
I think that a lot of people who come from small towns sometimes think it’s hard to see out of that world. My mom never for a second made us feel like the world ended outside our town. She made it feel as if the whole world was for us and it wasn’t that big. Having that sort of mentality made me feel like anything was possible and crazy dreams like the Olympics weren’t impossible. The mentality my mom reinforced in us as kids set us up to have successful lives.
Before going out on the ice to skate, or even to dance on Dancing with the Stars, what do you do to get into the zone? Any pre-competition routines?
One of my role models growing up was Michelle Kwan. About 10 years ago, I had the chance to do a show with her. I was telling myself to watch Michelle skate and to watch every single f*cking thing she does, because she’s Michelle Kwan.
Well, she’s hanging out with everyone backstage, and before the show is about to start, she removes herself from the group. She then closes her eyes and takes two to three deep breaths. She doesn’t say anything; she’s very quiet. She then opens her eyes and returns to the group. She’s exactly the same as she was, but I could tell in that moment, she harnessed her energy. She got it together and harnessed all those butterflies and the adrenaline.
After years of closing my eyes and taking a few deep breaths, I feel like I’m connecting to my true self. How I am going to use this adrenaline and bring it and focus. Before I have any sort of performance, I take that moment. I have fun with everybody and joke and try to make people laugh all the time, but I take a moment before every performance to close my eyes and take a few deep breaths and remind myself that I am powerful and strong. I use the adrenaline to my advantage and as a secret weapon to push myself further.
I know you have mentioned that Dancing with the Stars was out of your element. Can you talk more about that?
When I was asked to do Dancing with the Stars, I immediately withdrew from the idea of doing it because it was something out of my comfort zone. What I discovered was, being a competitor, and being pushed out of my comfort zone, made me feel the most alive. Like I was getting the most out of myself.
So, every time I did something that was completely out of my element, it was exhilarating. When you step out of your comfort zone, you learn more about yourself. You learn more about how you deal with different situations. I am so glad I took the time to do the show even though it was a crazy time. It was so fun and rewarding.
You are also working with GLAAD to help raise awareness and funds for LGBTQ youth programs. What has that experience been like? Why is helping LGBTQ youth so important to you?
I work with a youth ambassador program called the GLAAD Campus Ambassadors Program, and this program is for young people across the country. GLAAD gives them the tools and resources to go back to their communities as ambassadors, like counselors, for young LGBTQ youth in their community.
After a Stars on Ice performance, I met someone whose college roommate was a youth ambassador at their campus. Through GLAAD, I’ve had the chance to meet a lot of these ambassadors and hear what they are able to do for the community. It’s so empowering, and I think that when you have role models like that growing up, it shapes your world and gives you confidence.
To have a voice, it changes your outlook on a lot of things. It changes your world, your light, and I think that’s important. For me, coming from a small town, I didn’t have those role models who were openly gay. That’s why I think it’s important to share my story and get to work with GLAAD and work with these people who are younger than I was. It’s so awesome to see this, and that’s why I am happy and honored to be working with GLAAD. The stuff they do is inspiring.
What are some other ways we can support the LGBTQ community, especially LGBTQ youth?
I think the best thing an ally can do is find people they think are inspiring or impressed by and share their story. No matter who they are, if they are part of the LGBTQ community or not, we need to find young people who we find inspiring and embrace them and we should highlight what they do.
I have been talking with my brothers and sister who are in high school or recently graduated and the amount of people and kids they are around who identify as LGBTQ is crazy to me. When I was young, not many did. I’m 28, but to see kids who are 18, 16, 15 years old be comfortably gay in school, it’s still a bit foreign to me, but it’s awesome.
Being gay is awesome, but it’s not special. Being gay is not special. What you do is special and what you do for other people is special. To be able to help and empower other people, that is special. An ally who notices someone within the LGBTQ community doing that and sharing their story is important. Our straight friends should also learn more about our community and about who came before us.
The midterm elections are coming up soon. How important is it for the queer community to come out and vote?
Oh my god, it is so important to come out and vote. I think that is what’s really inspiring now. Given the current administration, it has inspired a lot of people to speak up.
I never thought I would be one of those people that would go to marches or go to protests, and all of a sudden, here I am at 11 p.m. right before a march or some protest making some random poster. It’s crazy. I never felt like I needed to go out and do that, but I think there are so many people out there, especially young people, who are inspired.
I think back to the young kids in Florida who started the March for Our Lives. The kind of response and attention they garnered because they immediately spoke out and called for change. It’s amazing. Right now, seeing the social climax and people coming together to rally is mind blowing. I think the result of the last election was a lot of people not acting. Right now, they are speaking up about things they do not think are right and speaking up against things that aren’t correct. They are speaking up for people who they feel aren’t being treated the way they want to be treated, and I think that is so important that we keep this fire in our bellies.
What would you say to someone who wants to speak about an issue but is afraid of being silenced?
I have definitely received my fair share of ‘stay in your own lane’ comments, but it’s important to say what you think is right. Say what you believe in. I also think it’s important to be factual. Do not just say whatever the first thing is that comes to mind. Think about it.
My advice to people who want to speak out is if this is an issue that is true to who you are or something you truly believe that isn’t right, then it doesn’t matter what other people think. It needs to come from your heart. No matter what it is, people can always tell if you are genuine. That’s when they will listen to you. If it’s off and weird and not from the heart, people will ignore you. If it’s something your truly believe in and it’s something you are truly passionate about, go after it. It doesn’t matter what other people think because the backlash is minimal.
More importantly, at the end of the day, you will feel like you did something to better the world or help someone. That’s what matters. If people have a problem with that, then that’s their own problem. They are resisting change and afraid of something. If you are confident in what you are saying and believe in what you are saying, your point will come across. So, my advice, be confident and be sure that it comes from the heart. At the end of the day, you are doing something you believe in and are passionate about.
I know you have declined the opportunity before, but would you ever want to meet face to face with Trump or Pence?
I mean, ideally no. I really have nothing to say. I think Donald Trump says enough for himself. He does all the talking anybody needs.
Regarding Mike Pence, I don’t have anything to say to him either. I have been really lucky that what he has pushed and the people he has gone after and the different causes he has stood for have not affected my life. It’s not a conversation for me. It’s a conversation for those people whose lives have changed or who felt like they don’t have a voice.
Photos provided by Adam Rippon