Remembering an Early NIOT Supporter, Former Ambassador James Catherwood Hormel | Not in Our Town

Remembering an Early NIOT Supporter, Former Ambassador James Catherwood Hormel

Former ambassador James C. Hormel sits at his desk in this 2011 photo. Photo: Rick Gerharter

Former ambassador James C. Hormel sits at his desk in this 2011 photo. Photo: Rick Gerharter 


The NIOT community mourns the loss of James Catherwood Hormel, a philanthropist and the first openly LGBT person to represent the United States as an ambassador. Hornel died in a San Francisco hospital Friday, August 13, with his husband at his side and his favorite Beethoven concerto playing. He was 88.

In a statement, Vice President Kamala Harris said of Hormel, "During his remarkable life, Ambassador James Hormel made history — and he made the world a better place. Jim's kindness and commitment to human rights, including his efforts to help found the Human Rights Campaign and advocate for those living with HIV/AIDS, changed lives and inspired generations of leaders."

"James Hormel's commitment to justice, fairness, and inclusion was inspiring and he left an incredible legacy in our community, our country, and our world," said NIOT founder Patrice O'Neill. "We deeply appreciate his ongoing commitment and support for film and media that could help people make change."

His appointment as ambassador to Luxembourg, in 1999, was not an easy process, as recounted in an obituary posted in the Bay Area Reporter:

It all began at a 1992 dinner with then-President Bill Clinton's campaign treasurer, Bob Farmer. Over dinner, Farmer suggested to Mr. Hormel that he seek a presidential appointment as an ambassador.

"I was quite surprised when he brought up the idea," said Mr. Hormel, noting that over 60% of such positions are held by career employees who have come up through the ranks in the Foreign Service.

The appointment did not happen easily, Mr. Hormel recalled.

In fact, it wasn't until five years after that dinner that Clinton nominated Mr. Hormel for the job. During that period, recalled Mr. Hormel, he made "dozens of visits and hundreds of phone calls" to keep his name in consideration.

Mr. Hormel said he was persistent because, if appointed, "I would break a ceiling and make it easier for gay people to serve at the highest levels of government."

Senate Republicans and conservative Christians opposed Mr. Hormel's nomination, and Clinton ultimately employed a recess appointment in May 1999, with Hormel being sworn in a month later. Since his appointment, there have been a number of gay men appointed as ambassadors. In July, President Joe Biden nominated Chantale Wong, a lesbian, to be the United States director to the Asian Development Bank, a post with the rank of ambassador.

"We are deeply saddened by the passing of Ambassador Jim Hormel," stated former President Clinton and his wife, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. "Jim devoted his life to advancing the rights and dignity of all people, and in his trailblazing service in the diplomatic corps, he represented the United States with honor and brought us closer to living out the meaning of a more perfect union. We will always be grateful for his courageous and principled example, as well as the kindness and support he gave us over so many years. Our thoughts are with his family and all who loved him."

Read the full obituary at the Bar Area Reporter »

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