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Philanthropist, first openly gay U.S. Ambassador James Hormel dies at 88

Former U.S. Ambassador and philanthropist James Hormel of San Francisco peacefully passed away Friday morning at 88 years old.

Driven by his passion for social justice, Hormel served as an ambassador in Luxembourg from 1999 to 2000, becoming the first openly gay U.S. ambassador. He attended the 51st United Nations Human Rights Commission in 1995 and was the alternate representative of the U.S. delegation to the 51st United Nations General Assembly, among other feats.

Former President Bill Clinton and Secretary Hillary Clinton said in a joint statement:

“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.”

His path to success in the public service realm was met with many obstacles as an openly gay man, however, and his nomination for U.S Ambassador to Luxembourg sparked defamatory news coverage and rejection from an assortment of Republican senators.

He approached his opponents with grace and kindness regardless, his family said.

Photo courtesy Lighthouse Public Former U.S. Ambassador, philanthropist and heir to the Hormel meatpacking fortune, James Hormel, of San Francisco, Calif., on August 1, 2011. Hormel died on Friday, August 13, 2021. (Photo courtesy Lighthouse Public Affairs)

In a news release, the family wrote:

“The magnitude of this appointment was extraordinary. Through his ambassadorship, James showed the country — and the world — that American diplomatic roles would be determined by demonstrated leadership and merit, not by how or who you loved.” 

Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi said:

“Jim Hormel made history as the first openly gay U.S. Ambassador, showing the world how the voices of LGBTQ Americans are integral to foreign policy, and paving the way for a new generation of leaders. … With his gentle yet powerful voice and undaunted determination, Jim made it his mission to fight for dignity and equality for all.”

Hormel was also an adamant figure in philanthropy for the city of San Francisco and nationwide, serving as a board member for the American Foundation for AIDS Research, a co-founder for the Human Rights Campaign Foundation and founding director of the City Club of San Francisco.

San Francisco Mayor London Breed sad:

“All across the city, we can see the impacts of his life, whether it’s in important institutions he supported like the AIDS Memorial Grove or our Public Library, or in the young people walking down our streets who live in the wake of his courage and activism,”  

Breed added:

“James Hormel cared deeply about supporting the community here in San Francisco, not only to advance the rights of LGBTQ people, but also to make a stronger and more welcoming city for all.”

For his work, he was honored with many awards in his lifetime, like the Silver Spur Award for Civic Leadership from the San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association and the Tiffany Award. He also received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Human Rights Campaign in 2001.

Hormel is survived by his five children, fourteen grandchildren, seven great-grandchildren and his husband, Michael Araque Hormel.

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