SAN FRANCISCO — James Hormel, the first openly gay U.S. ambassador and a philanthropist who funded organizations to fight AIDS and promote human rights, has died. He was 88.
Hormel died Friday at a San Francisco hospital with his husband, Michael, at his side and while listening to his favorite Beethoven concerto, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California, praised Hormel as a civil rights pioneer who lived “an extraordinary life.”
“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,” she said.
In 1997, then-President Bill Clinton nominated Hormel to become U.S. ambassador to Luxembourg. Conservative Senate Republicans blocked the nomination. But two years later, Clinton used executive privilege to appoint him during the Congressional recess.
“The process was very long and strenuous, arduous, insulting, full of misleading statements, full of lies, full of deceit, full of antagonism,” Hormel said during a West Hollywood, California, bookshop visit in 2012 to promote his memoir, “Fit to Serve.”
He never received confirmation through a Senate floor vote but “ultimately a great deal was achieved,” he told the audience. “Ultimately, regulations were changed in the State Department. Ultimately, other openly gay individuals were appointed without the rancor that went into my case.”
U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg, who is openly gay, has said that as a teenager he was inspired by Hormel’s confirmation fight.
“I can remember watching the news,” he said after his nomination by President Joe Biden. “And I learned something about some of the limits that exist in this country when it comes to who is allowed to belong. But just as important, I saw how those limits could be challenged.”
Hormel held the ambassadorship from June 1999 through 2000.
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