James Hormel Dies; First Out LGBTQ U.S. Ambassador

President Clinton used a recess appointment to make him ambassador to Luxembourg after anti-LGBTQ resistance in the U.S. Senate; Hormel was a significant contributor to Victory Institute’s public leadership work.

James Hormel, a renowned philanthropist and the first openly LGBTQ person to represent the United States as an ambassador, passed away peacefully in San Francisco Friday morning. He was 88.

In 1999, despite fierce homophobic resistance and attacks from some Republican U.S. senators, President Bill Clinton used a recess appointment to make him the nation’s first out LGBTQ ambassador. His appointment to Luxembourg was heralded as groundbreaking for LGBTQ public servants.

Mayor Annise Parker, President & CEO of LGBTQ Victory Institute, released the following statement about his passing:

“Jim’s appointment was a breakthrough moment for the LGBTQ rights movement and his successful post in Luxembourg set the stage for future LGBTQ ambassadors facing confirmation. Whereas Jim endured homophobic abuse from anti-LGBTQ U.S. senators that led to his recess appointment, now LGBTQ nominees are largely considered on their merits and qualifications. Jim was a trailblazer and withstood the anti-LGBTQ attacks with dignity, as trailblazers often do. Yet he helped jumpstart a new era where LGBTQ public servants recognized they could serve their country and be out and proud about who they are. His passing is a loss for our movement and our country.”

Hormel was inducted into the LGBTQ Victory Hall of Fame in May 2021 for his contributions to advancing LGBTQ equality through public service. In an interview for the Hall of Fame induction ceremony, Hormel said: “If you don’t come out, they won’t know who you are. Coming out is the most important single step that an LGBTQ person can take today.”

In 1995, President Clinton appointed Hormel to serve on the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, and in 1996, he served on the U.S. delegation to the UN General Assembly. But when President Clinton nominated him for the ambassador post to Luxembourg in 1997, anti-LGBTQ U.S. senators including Majority Leader Trent Lott worked to block a confirmation vote because of his sexual orientation. The refusal to call a confirmation vote led to President Clinton’s recess appointment in May 1999.

Beyond public service, Hormel was a generous philanthropist who supported many LGBTQ causes, including LGBTQ Victory Institute’s work to build and support a pipeline of LGBTQ public leaders.

“Jim’s continued investments in LGBTQ Victory Institute brought stability and growth to our leadership development programs,” said Ruben Gonzales, Executive Director of LGBTQ Victory Institute. “There are countless LGBTQ appointed and elected officials who were not only inspired by Jim’s public service career, but also participated in internships, candidate trainings and other Victory Institute programs made possible through his support. His generosity will impact LGBTQ representation in government for decades to come.”