Today we honor and celebrate a life-long philanthropist and activist, James C. Hormel. Born in Minnesota on New Year’s Day 1933, Hormel is the grandson of George A. Hormel of Hormel Foods. (Yep, the SPAM people…) He earned a B.A. in history from Swarthmore College and a law degree from the University of Chicago. He has practiced law and served as dean of students and director of admissions at UC’s law school.
Hormel has also dedicated his life to social justice and to making the world safer for LGBT people. He came out in middle age after many years of marriage. He was one of the founders of the Human Rights Campaign. He was a member of the 1995 United Nations Commission on Human Rights and the 1996 U.S. delegation to the United Nations General Assembly, and has served on the boards of directors of the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce and the American Foundation for AIDS Research. Hormel funded the creation of James C. Hormel Gay & Lesbian Center at the San Francisco Public Library in 1995.
Hormel is also the first openly gay person to serve as a U.S. ambassador, although Republicans in the Senate tried their best to stop that from happening. President Clinton put him forward as Ambassador to Luxembourg in October 1997. Despite easy approval by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (with no votes from Jesse Helms and John Ashcroft), Republicans obstructed his appointment for over a year. The ever-charming Trent Lott publicly denounced Hormel, comparing homosexuality to kleptomania. The fact that a life-long philanthropist was seen as unfit as an ambassador by the same people who thought John Bolton at the U.N. was a good idea is pretty telling about Republican character in the Senate. President Clinton finally used a recess appointment to send Hormel to Luxembourg, where he was well received and served with honor.
Now retired to the Bay area, he continues his philanthropy and involvement in the LGBT community. In 2010 he was given the Lifetime Achievement Grand Marshall Award by San Francisco Pride Board of Directors for his LGBT activism over several decades.