James Hormel, first openly gay US Ambassador and longtime philanthropist, dies at 88

James Hormel
In this June 29, 1999, file photo, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, left, applauds James C. Hormel as the new ambassador to Luxembourg at a State Department ceremony in Washington.

  • James Hormel, the first openly gay US ambassador and a philanthropist, has died at age 88.
  • In 1999, President Bill Clinton gave Hormel a recess appointment after his nomination was blocked by conservatives.
  • Hormel served as the ambassador to Luxembourg from June 1999 through 2000.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

James Hormel, the first openly gay US 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 of 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,” the Democratic senator said.

In 1997, then-President Bill Clinton nominated Hormel to become US 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.”

US 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.

Clinton and his wife, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, said they were deeply saddened by Hormel’s death.

“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,” the Clintons said in a statement.

US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who officiated at Hormel’s wedding to his husband, said Hormel “made it his mission to fight for dignity and equality for all” and noted his philanthropic contributions to health, artistic and educational organizations.

“When the AIDS epidemic descended upon San Francisco, he called on our conscience and rallied the city to help our neighbors suffering from the ferocious disease,” Pelosi said in a statement. “His work served as a model for national policy to defeat HIV/AIDS and improve the lives of all affected.”

Hormel was an heir to the Hormel Foods fortune. Born in Austin, Minnesota, Hormel married his college sweetheart, Alice McElroy Parker, and had five children before divorcing in 1965. He moved to San Francisco in 1977.

He was a former dean of students at the University of Chicago Law School, where he received a degree.

Hormel co-founded the Human Rights Campaign and helped fund many activities geared to arts, education and human rights, including a gay and lesbian center at the San Francisco Public Library; the National AIDS Memorial Grove; the American Foundation for AIDS Research; and the American Conservatory Theater.

In addition to his husband, Hormel is survived by five children, 14 grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.

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How to avoid ‘rainbow-washing’ and include allyship and innovation in your Pride marketing efforts instead

Parade-goers make their way down 5th Avenue during the NYC Pride March
Parade-goers make their way down 5th Avenue during the NYC Pride March.

  • Companies often turn to rainbow versions of their products during the month of June for Pride.
  • Rainbow-washing can be lazy, and there are better ways to show support for the LGBTQ+ community.
  • Create awareness, give context, partner with community leaders, and do something outside of June.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

I get pitched a lot by publicists, agents, and agencies for this column. Because I often use the behavior of certain people or companies as a jump-off point for articles, it makes sense that PR professionals would seek out similar coverage for their clients.

Publicists and account reps have many different resources for building their network, and an increasingly popular approach is to join and participate in online communities such as PR-focused Facebook groups. I’m in a few of these myself to stay informed, and the other day I saw a passing post that mentioned some new LGBTQ-related research. I’m always interested in seeing and referencing new data-backed studies, so I commented and asked for the press release.

I thought I wrote, “Feel free to send that report my way.” But from the looks of my inbox the past few weeks, perhaps I blacked out and actually said something more along the lines of “Open Sesame!” because the number of pitches I’ve received lately has been bonkers.

Read more: Young sellers making thousands a month on Depop reveal how they got their start

Brand after brand has forwarded me their “revolutionary” new campaign in which they’ve printed a rainbow version of their product and are giving a portion of proceeds to an LGBTQ-focused charity. I’ll certainly never turn my nose up at a company’s charitable giving efforts. But I’m also worried. For many of these companies, a rainbow version of their product for the month of June feels both performative and – dare I say it – lazy.

We know that we exist. So we want to see more than awareness in your pride marketing; we want to see allyship and innovation. Here are a few ideas on what that could look like – and why companies should care.

Consumer psychology has changed

Consumers increasingly look to where a brand stands on topics of social justice to determine their loyalty. Your customers and clients want to follow your company and buy your product not only for what it does but also for what you stand for.

We all like to purchase from companies that get us. And according to polling data from Gallup, the roar of both the LGBTQ community and economy is only getting louder. Highlights from that data include:

  • 5.6% of Americans identifying as LGBTQ, up from 4.5% in 2017,
  • 9.1% of millennials identifying as LGBTQ, with about half of that population identifying as bisexual, and
  • Nearly 16% of Gen Z identifying as LGBTQ, with 72% of that population identifying as bisexual. 1.8% of Gen Z identifies as transgender.

Translation? Queer people exist, and younger people identify as queer in greater numbers. Oppression efforts continue to run rampant, so we need your help.

As of this writing, 17 anti-transgender bills have already been signed into law this year, per a press release from the Human Rights Campaign. The impact these bills will have on trans youth is staggering; a University of Arizona study found that trans youth experience far higher suicide attempt rates, but an affirmation of their identity and pronouns by parents can greatly reduce this number.

Financial data on the LGBTQ community also paints a complex picture. Mainstream stereotypes depict queer people as lavish and fabulous. But overall, LGBTQ people are more likely to experience socioeconomic inequality, according to a demographics report from UCLA.

As you create awareness for the LGBTQ community during pride month, take time in your messaging to give context. Share with your audience about the current challenges we face as well as where your company stands.

How to attract loyal customers who promote you on their behalf

If pride marketing feels like walking on eggshells this year, here are a few steps you can take that are largely guaranteed to make a difference.

  • Hand the microphone over. Instead of rainbow-washing a community’s needs, partner with a community leader who can speak to important issues in an informed, compelling way. Influencer marketing is still a slippery slope, but spokespeople have been a tried-and-true visibility tactic for decades. The approach is win/win.
  • Do something outside of June. If you’ve missed the opportunity to promote pride in June … there are LGBTQ-related awareness days throughout the year. Your campaign is less likely to get caught in the rainbow-washed echo chamber that is June, too.
  • Go local. GLAAD’s Media Reference Guide includes a directory of community organizations to spotlight and be aware of. What are your local organizations, and how can you encourage supporting them? These grassroots initiatives often make an immediate impact and can literally save lives.

The LGBTQ economy continues to grow, and as a result, the pride marketing landscape is changing. Instead of phoning it in, use marketing dollars to spotlight issues that truly matter to your customers. Challenge yourself to zig when others zag, and you’re more likely to command our market’s attention for months and years to come.

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