Dec 8, 2013
This Gay Man Represented the President
Posted on Feb 17, 2012
By Mel White
Hormel knew an appointment would require Senate confirmation. “That would oblige one hundred U.S. senators—and in all likelihood, the media and the American public—to decide whether a gay person was fit to serve as a direct representative of the president of the United States,” he writes. He was going to use the political points he had accumulated as a primary donor to the Clinton campaign to fight for full acceptance for LGBT Americans.
The religious right was fanning a firestorm of protest. On Pat Robertson’s “700 Club,” Hormel was called “a radical homosexual activist” whose philanthropic work had “helped popularize homosexuality and child sex abuse.” A “700 Club” reporter described an anti-Hormel protest as “not about politics—it’s about the sexual abuse of children.” The religious right circulated false and outrageous stories that Hormel was “well known for keeping minors for sexual use.” Robertson concluded, “Your rights as the American people are being violated on this one, and to send this, this pedophile advocate to Luxembourg or any foreign country is an absolute outrage.”
In spite of the vicious attacks on Hormel from Catholic and Protestant fundamentalists, no one at the White House or in the State Department mentioned his sexual orientation, until a rumor began to circulate that Hormel might be appointed ambassador to Fiji, where homosexuality was illegal. Although the storm of protest that followed was particularly nasty, Hormel and his colleagues had a brief moment of comic relief. When an attaché from the U.S. Embassy explained to the president of Fiji that Hormel was an activist the same way Elizabeth Taylor was an activist, the president responded, “Well, then send us Elizabeth Taylor.”
Fit to Serve: Reflections on a Secret Life, Private Struggle, and Public Battle to Become the First Openly Gay U.S. Ambassador
By James C. Hormel (Author), Erin Martin (Author)
Skyhorse Publishing, 320 pages
Refusing to act on Hormel’s appointment, the 105th Congress adjourned. Hormel had just two years remaining before President Clinton left office. Then on Friday, June 4, 1999, John Podesta, the White House chief of staff, called Hormel and asked, chuckling, “You do speak French, don’t you?” “I sure do,” Hormel replied. “Well, then, bon voyage,” Podesta said. Hormel had finally won. He remembers:
In 2010, Hormel, now almost 80, looked back on his 50 years of service to the gay community and celebrated the advances LGBT people had made and the struggles yet to be won:
The anti-gay teachings of religious leaders (Catholic and Protestant alike) have poisoned minds and hearts against homosexuals for centuries. Those teachings, based on biblical misuse and scientific ignorance, are still toxic, still forcing LGBT people to live in closets of fear and self-loathing, still causing intolerance, discrimination, bullying, beatings and even death. One recent survey reveals that nearly half of those who identify with the tea party consider themselves a part of the old religious right. They believe the Bible is the literal word of God. They believe that America is a Christian nation and that public officials—local, state and federal—should pay more attention to [the Christian] religion.”
“People are still losing jobs for being gay,” Hormel writes. “People are still being killed in the meanest and most humiliating ways because of their sexual orientation and gender identity. We must focus the public on the injustice of it all and get their support to repeal DOMA [Defense of Marriage Act], pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, and change federal laws and regulations that bar same-sex partners from enjoying the medical, tax and financial benefits that heterosexual couples enjoy.
“An important question about patriotism is whether is it possible for any patriot to sit on the sidelines and not be involved. For gay people, my answer is no. We have to be out. If not, we are complicit with the old order, the one that would have us remain invisible. We have a perfect opportunity now to fight for the Respect for Marriage Act, which would repeal DOMA and open the door to full marriage equality. We must not miss this chance.”
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