James Hormel

James Hormel

(January 1, 1933 – ) The grandson of the Hormel Foods founder made history of his own in 1999 when President Bill Clinton appointed him U.S. Ambassador to Luxembourg, making him the first openly gay man serve in that capacity. Clinton first considered Hormel for Ambassador to Fiji in 1994. But after Fiji objected, Clinton declined to submit Hormel’s nomination to the Senate. Instead, he named Hormel to the U.N’s Human Rights Commission in 1995, and as alternate representative for the U.N. General Assembly in 1996.

James Hormel is being sworn in by Secretary of State Madeline Albright, with his former partner Tim Wu holding a Bible.In 1997, Clinton nominated Hormel as Ambassador to Luxembourg. The Republican-controlled senate blocked his nomination for the next two years. Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-MS), in arguing against Hormel’s nomination, compared homosexuality to alcoholism and kleptomania. Other Senators (notably Sen. Jesse Helms, who chaired the Senate Foreign Relations Committee) and anti-gay activists called Hormel pro-pornography and anti-Catholic. Pat Robertson’s “700 Club” aired a segment accusing Hormel of pedophilia. “I felt nauseous,” Hormel later wrote. “Partly from my disgust over the willful fabrication, partly out of fear that the televangelist had succeeded in taking away from me what, by then, I most desired.”

Hormel’s  nomination lingered for two years, until he was finally named Ambassador in June 1999 as a recess appointment. He was sworn in, with his then-partner holding the Bible, and his former wife, five children and several grandchildren in attendance. He served as Ambassador until December 2000.

Previously, Hormel had been one of the co-founders of the Human Rights Campaign in 1981, and he funded the Kames C. Hormel Gay and Lesbian Center of the San Francisco Public Library in 1995. He currently lives in San Francisco with his partner, Michael P. Nguyen. His memoir, Fit to Serve: Reflections on a Secret Life, Private Struggle, and Public Battle to Become the First Openly Gay U.S. Ambassador, was published in 2011.

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