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Olympic skater Rippon highlights Phoenix Mercury PRIDE Night

(AP Photo/Julie Jacobson, File)

PHOENIX – “How should we stand? Should we pose like this?”

This is how the night started.

Adam Rippon asked these questions as fans approached him for pictures at his meet-and-greet before the Phoenix Mercury faced the Connecticut Sun for the team’s PRIDE Night on Saturday.

Rippon, the special guest brought in for the celebration, is the first openly gay American male figure skater to compete in the Olympics. He won a bronze medal with Team USA as part of the figure skating team in the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

In May of this year, Rippon added more success to his résumé by winning “Dancing with the Stars: Athletes.”

With his new platform, Rippon has become more involved with organizations such as GLAD, Trevor Project and the Human Rights Campaign.

Proceeds from Saturday night’s game were to benefit GLAD, which is a non-profit legal organization that works to end discrimination based on sexual orientation, HIV status and gender identity or expression.

“I was so honored to be asked,” Rippon said about what made the decision easy for him to agree to be the special guest for the Mercury’s PRIDE Night.

“After the Olympics, it’s been such a great opportunity to share my story,” Rippon said. “With the platform I’ve been given, it’s an amazing opportunity to highlight other people who have really been so progressive and have been such a voice for so long.”

He praised the WNBA for its acceptance of the LGBT community and its celebrations of gay pride.

“Sometimes it feels like sports isn’t a very welcoming place for somebody who’s part of the LGBT community, but that has not been the case for the WNBA,” Rippon said.

In 2014, the WNBA launched a LGBT campaign to embrace the LGBT community. Its goal was to bring new enthusiasm to the league, with Pride apparel, PRIDE Night games for every team and Pride Parade participation.

With this campaign and more light shining on the LGBT community, more players have become more open about their personal lives.

“It’s really impressive how so many of the women have been able to share their personal stories, share their relationships and share their family stories,” Rippon said.

The Mercury’s Brittney Griner has become more involved with the LGBT community in recent years.

In 2013, Griner came out in an interview with Sports Illustrated and has been an advocate for the community ever since.

During the national anthem, she stood with the pride flag wrapped around her.

“It was amazing,” Griner said.

She wanted to do something in honor of PRIDE Night and said that having the team and the organization back her meant everything.

More than 12,000 fans poured into Talking Stick Resort Arena on Saturday night, including members of the Phoenix Pride non-profit organization and Miss Phoenix Pride 2018.

“Any type of media like that coming into our community and giving light to our community and who we are as human beings is always an amazing thing,” said Mya McKenzie, Miss Phoenix Pride 2018.

McKenzie and those from Phoenix Pride shared how they are becoming more involved with the major sports teams in the Phoenix area, and that they admire the leaders in the sports community who are supportive.

The Phoenix Mercury and the Phoenix Pride organization have had an ongoing relationship, and bringing in more leaders and more organizations from the LGBT community has helped strengthen that partnership.

Mercury coach Sandy Brondello said the team embraces PRIDE Night, and it welcomes everybody to the celebration.

“Love is love,” Brondello said, smiling.

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