Hormel with his husband in 2019 (Image via Community Music Center)
James Hormel, the former Ambassador to Luxembourg whose status as an out gay man made waves when he was nominated to the position by President Clinton, died today at age 88.
An heir to the meatpacking fortune, Hormel held his position from 1999-2001 after Clinton's recess appointment, was also a renowned LGBTQ activist and humanitarian who co-founded the Human Rights Campaign, was active in amfAR, gave the money that led to the building of the Gay and Lesbian Center at the San Francisco Public Library in 1995, was a rep to the U.S. delegation to the 51st United Nations General Assembly and was a member of the U.S. Human Rights Commission.
The library he funded was one reason Republicans demanded he not be appointed Ambassador; they discovered it, like probably every other similar institution, contained pornographic materials, including documents published by pro-pedophile group NAMBLA. He was also slimed for having once laughed at a Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence Joke and for having funded a video encouraging kids not to be homophobic.
Hormel with then-partner Timothy Wu, as he was sworn in, 1999:
Some of Hormel's most virulently anti-gay critics as he attempted confirmation included Sens. Jesse Helms, John Ashcroft, Timothy Hutchinson, James Inhofe (STILL A SITTING U.S. SENATOR), Trent Lott and others.
The San Francisco Bay Area resident was was remembered by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-California), who said via statement:
San Francisco lost a great friend today. A philanthropist, civil rights pioneer and loving spouse and father, James Hormel lived an extraordinary life and will be deeply missed by many. I had the pleasure of working closely with him on several issues, most notably on the 1984 Democratic National Convention in San Francisco. I was grateful for his help and expertise as a member of the host committee. Tapped to be the ambassador to Luxembourg by President Clinton in 1997, he was the first openly gay person to serve as an ambassador. While his nomination was controversial at the time, his service was distinguished and helped advance LGBTQ rights both at home and abroad. In addition to his trailblazing public service, he helped found several LGBTQ institutions, including the Human Rights Campaign and the James C. Hormel Gay & Lesbian Center at the San Francisco Public Library. I will miss his kind heart and generous spirit. It’s those qualities that made him such an inspirational figure and beloved part of our city.
Speaker of the House Pelosi added:
It is with the deepest sadness and the greatest appreciation for his unsurpassed contributions to our country and society that I learned of the passing of Ambassador Hormel. We will dearly miss him in San Francisco, in our nation and around the world. Jim Hormel made history as the first openly gay U.S. Ambassador, paving the way for a new generation of leaders and elevating the voices of LGBTQ voices in our foreign policy. With his gentle yet powerful voice and undaunted determination, Jim made it his mission to fight for dignity and equality for all. As the first openly gay Ambassador, he had the courage to be a pioneer and had the patriotism to accept the challenge. When the AIDS epidemic descended upon San Francisco, he called on our conscience and rallied the city to help our neighbors suffering from the ferocious disease. His work served as a model for national policy to defeat HIV/AIDS and improve the lives of all affected. In our community and country, Jim was recognized as a significant champion of the arts and education. His love of his family and loyalty to his friends made him a beloved figure in our community. It is fitting that Jim’s name is etched in history as the first openly gay U.S. Ambassador, but his extraordinary greatness is forever etched in the hearts of all who know him. Paul and I are heartbroken at the loss of our friend. I was honored to officiate at the wedding of Jim and his dear husband Michael. May it be a comfort to Michael, and to Jim’s children Alison, Anne, Elizabeth, James Jr. and Sarah, that so many mourn their loss and pray for them at this sad time. Jim’s extraordinary life will always serve as a beacon of hope and promise for LGBTQ children across our country and around the world.
Lambda Legal CEO Kevin Jennings remembered Hormel in a statement:
The importance of the leadership of Jim Hormel — who I am proud to have called my friend for over 25 years — to the success of the LGBTQ+ movement cannot be overstated. When our movement was starved for financial resources, and too many of those who had them were too afraid or embarrassed to associate themselves with our community’s organizations publicly, Jim stepped forward, leveraging his family’s famous name and his personal fortune to fund literally thousands of organizations (Lambda Legal included), political candidates, and individual activists & artists. Without his generosity and the example he set (which inspired countless other donors to step up), our movement would not be where it is today. Jim’s own courage under fire when he was subjected to a homophobic hate campaign after his Ambassadorial nomination by President Clinton was an inspirational testament to his character and integrity. When I remember Jim, the word that will always come to mind for me will be “kind.” Jim treated all he met with great kindness and utmost respect, modeling goodness in all he did. In my mind, he is always smiling and spreading goodwill to everyone he touched. Lambda Legal, our movement, and I have lost a great and irreplaceable friend, one I will truly and deeply miss.
Hormel is survived by his husband Michael Peter Nguyen Araque, five children and numerous grandchildren.