Olympic figure skating medalist Adam Rippon has certainly not slowed down since winning a bronze medal at this year’s Olympic Games in PyeongChang. The outgoing skater just wrapped up a nationwide Stars on Ice tour and is currently participating in the new season of Dancing With the Stars, all while being a spokesperson for GLAAD and becoming an overnight LGBTQ icon. Rippon took some time out of his incredibly busy schedule to chat with Hornet from Washington, D.C., where he was training for DWTS with his dance partner, Jenna Johnson.
Do you think that if you weren’t openly gay you would have received as much attention as you did?
I don’t know. I believe that being openly gay is part of who I am, and I felt it was important to share who I was, because I had missed out on going to the Olympics twice before. This time it was important that I share every part of who I am and what it took for me to finally get there.
Off the ice, what was your favorite Olympic memory?
Getting to stand on the podium with my friends and teammates was an absolute dream, as was getting to walk in the opening ceremony. It was something I had been waiting to do my entire life. I thought about that moment over and over growing up, and it was everything I thought it would be.
Aside from your trainers, did you have a support system leading up to the Olympic games?
I was lucky to make some incredible friends, some who I’ve known for at least 10 years. They’ve seen me at my highs and lows. I felt so connected to them when I was at the Olympics because they were on that journey with me. They helped me gain perspective and, at the end of the day, they wouldn’t love me any differently if I didn’t go to the Olympics. Knowing that made the journey easier.
How do you view your new role model status?
It’s still funny for me to have someone come up to me and say, “Thank you for being yourself.” I don’t feel like I’ve done anything special or brave. I was just able to be myself on a major platform. I don’t treat anybody any differently now. I treat people the way I want to be treated. The most important thing is not to forget where I came from. Doing something little can really change a person’s life, so when you have the opportunity to do so, take it.
What do you love and what do you hate about your newfound celebrity?
I don’t really hate anything about it. The one thing that’s interesting is there are always people who don’t like what you are going to say or have a problem with you for whatever reason. That’s the only part that isn’t great. What I like is now when I say something funny on Twitter, a lot of people think it’s funny and can enjoy my sense of humor. I love engaging with people on social media.
You’re competing on the new season of Dancing With the Stars. What do you think will be your biggest challenge?
Partnering is one of the things I’m working on the most right now. It’s two people doing a dance together, and it’s the partner work I have literally no experience in, which is the most challenging part for me. Jenna [Johnson] is so patient. We are both perfectionists, but we both really like to laugh and have a good time. I’ve been practicing every day for at least four hours. There are a lot of expectations, and I’m ready for it. This is something fun I’ve always wanted to do.
What advice would you give to an LGBTQ person going through a bad experience?
You really need to think about the things you like about yourself, and celebrate those. Everybody goes through periods in our lives wondering what others think of us, and it’s important to realize that everyone goes through these experiences. You need to get to the point where you like things about yourself and celebrate them.
Tell me about combining forces with GLAAD and other organizations.
It’s so important to me to align myself with causes and people who help make the journey for someone like me so much easier. It’s because of organizations that have pushed for equality that make it possible for people like me to have a voice and be able to give back. I wish the next group of out Olympians are just Olympians and their sexuality isn’t a huge talking point.
If you ran into Mike Pence at Starbucks, what would you say to him?
I would say, “When are we having that talk you promised we’d have?” When I was at the Olympics, I didn’t really feel like he was the right person to lead the delegation, and I stand by that. If I were given the chance to have a talk with Pence, I’d tell him that it’s not me. It’s about the people whose lives he’s changed. It’s the people whose lives were changed because of legislation he pushed. They are the people who really have something to say to him. Things that he has said and done have had little to zero effect on my life but have affected the lives of so many others.
Adam Rippon will be co-hosting The Trevor Project’s annual TrevorLIVE New York gala with Gus Kenworthy on June 11. Head here for more info.
Featured image by TIME