The Passing of Ambassador Jim Hormel

The Council for Global Equality adds these reflections to those offered by others on last week’s passing of Jim Hormel.

The Council’s work is guided by the belief that at home and abroad, members of the LGBTQI community should be treated with the same dignity and respect, and have the same opportunities and responsibilities, as accorded to any other population.  Those basic principles were denied to Hormel when he was nominated, in 1997, to serve as U.S. Ambassador to Luxembourg.

Hormel’s qualifications for service — prominent philanthropist, senior business executive, from a storied family — were no less than those of many other political appointees of the day.  But his nomination came at a volatile time in our country’s efforts to grapple with LGBT rights. 

LGBT rights opponents quickly labeled him as a gay activist, and as anti-Catholic, anti-Christian. And after two years of wrenching debate and obstruction, the best Hormel could wrangle was a recess appointment.  The Senate would not confirm him for public service.

This cheap political theater was a slap to Hormel, of course.  But it was a slap, too, to public service – something the Senate was pledged to uphold. And it underscored the gap between American principles, on one hand – equality and justice, and fair treatment under the law — and the lived experiences of LGBT Americans, on the other.

Hormel’s recess appointment nonetheless proved that a gay man can represent his country fully and ably.  It opened the door to other LGBT appointments and nominations — including another history-making nomination, only this summer, of Chantale Wong to serve as our country’s first openly lesbian ambassador.

Others have commented on Hormel’s philanthropy, his gracious nature, and his generosity — the latter of which focused on a range of public needs, including LGBT advocacy.  In full disclosure, the Council also benefited from Hormel’s generosity. He was steadfastly committed to a range of LGBTQI organizations and leaders, including those working on global issues such as the Council for Global Equality and OutRight International. His dedication, friendship, and advice will genuinely be missed.

But we remember him today for affirming that LGBTQI people are part of America’s face to the world.  We honor his service to our country.  And we join with so many others in thanking him and his family for a life well-lived.

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