In this special series, LGBT celebrities and public figures talk to Tim Teeman about the Stonewall Riots and their legacy—see more here.
Adam Rippon is an Olympic and many other medal-winning figure skater (who retired from competitive figure skating in November 2018), LGBT activist, and TV personality.
When and how did you first hear about the Stonewall Riots, and what did you make of them?
Probably, when getting involved in different LGBTQ causes, four or five years ago in my mid-twenties. I was surprised I hadn't heard about them before. I heard from friends who happened to be chatting about them.
I asked what they were talking about, and then I became really interested and looked up information online and on YouTube. I tried to educate myself. It’s such an important part of American LGBT history, and part of the reason why I wanted to get involved in the #Rebel628 campaign, because it’s not right that I found out about it in my mid-twenties. It’s named after the dates of the riots. Part of our mission is to make sure why the younger generation needs to know why Stonewall was so important to the LGBTQ community, and what it stood for and meant.
Stonewall is a national monument, and what Stonewall was should be taught in schools. It’s really important that we learn about the people who were there: Sylvia Rivera, Marsha P. Johnson. The drag queens and trans women who were there were later asked not to march alongside LGB people. The thought was drag and transgender people would give the gay community a bad reputation.
That was crazy and wrong. They were such fighters and leaders in our community, and it’s an important lesson for us today: Just because a few of us have rights, we’re not free until all of us are free. Remember LGBTQ stands for us all, not just one group of those.
It’s shocking you could be arrested for holding another man’s hand, or arrested for being in drag. It’s crazy to think what was going on.
What would you say to the Stonewall demonstrators today if you could?
I don’t think anything I could say would be enough. I would start by saying thank you. The next thing I would say is that a lot of the success I am able to have today, and am able to get to do, stems right back to Stonewall.
What is the Stonewall Riots’ significance for you today?
For me they signify that a lot of times today we forget that the time when being gay was not allowed and considered a mental illness was not long ago. If we don’t learn history, we are bound to repeat it. There are still people within the LGBTQ community who still feel they have to hide parts of themselves. That’s not right. It’s up to the rest of us confident to speak up to speak up for those people.
How far have LGBT people come since 1969?
I think we’ve come really far. We’ve made huge steps forward and in the right direction. I still think we have a long way to go before we consider everyone equal, and everyone on the same level. The Trump administration is attacking trans rights. We need to stand up and speak out about that. We need to be the champions the Stonewall demonstrators were. That’s why it’s so important to talk about what they did.
Did your very public argument with Mike Pence, with you standing up to him over his homophobia, make you the activist you’ve since become?
I think I would have become an activist anyway. I was really comfortable to stand up. I remember being that young kid in the middle of this nowhere-town really uncomfortable with who they were. I also remember many years later preparing for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi hearing about the ‘gay propaganda’ law in Russia. I wanted to say something, and it was the first time I felt scared to say I was gay. I hated that. I promised myself to be really vocal after that. The only thing Mike Pence did was amplify my voice, when really he was trying to shut it down. He did the opposite. He didn’t. He failed.
Did you ever hear from Mike Pence privately?
Fuck no. Not at all. There’s no love lost. I don’t really care.
How much damage is this administration doing to LGBT rights? What should LGBT people and their allies do?
Continue to speak out, continue to revolt, continue to speak of the insanity coming from the White House, especially on our trans brothers and sisters. They, and we, shouldn’t have to ask for anything. We’ve taken steps backward, but it’s not irreversible damage. But we need to fight back.
What would you like to see, LGBT-wise, in the next 50 years?
I would love to see more equality throughout the entire LGBTQ+ community, and for people across that community feel they have some representation. It would be wonderful to think in 50 years’ time that being LGBTQ is not seen as anything important. We also need to focus on countries where LGBT people can be killed for who they are and who they love.
In any other administration, we could trust the president to speak up on these things, but the current administration is an incompetent bunch of racists. Their only agenda is to further themselves. They have old views from another time. Donald Trump and his entire administration need to leave. They are liars and cheaters, and they are not fit to lead.
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