Clinton reportedly drops gay candidate for Fiji post

January 01, 1995|By New York Times News Service

Because he is openly gay, it appears that James Hormel, 62, a business executive, philanthropist and Democratic Party stalwart in San Francisco, will not be nominated by the Clinton administration as the next U.S. ambassador to Fiji.

But just who is objecting to his homosexuality is harder to tell.

The possibility was raised last fall that Mr. Hormel would be named to the post.

In December, however, several newspapers reported that the White House was backing away from the nomination rather than face the probable opposition of Sen. Jesse Helms, R-N.C., who will head the Foreign Relations Committee.

Mr. Helms is outspokenly anti-gay.

But it may be that the administration learned, while floating Mr. Hormel's name as a possible candidate, that Fiji has strict laws against homosexuality that would have, at the very least, complicated Mr. Hormel's diplomatic role.

Not much research would have been necessary.

The "Spartacus International Gay Guide" for 1994-1995 (Bruno Gmunder Verlag), a well-known work now in its 23rd edition, has this to say about Fiji, an island republic in the South Pacific:

"Paragraphs 168-to-170 of the Fiji penal code make homosexuality completely forbidden.

"Even an 'attempt' is punishable. The maximum penalty for gay sex is 14 years imprisonment and for 'attempted gay sex,' seven years."

Neither the White House nor Mr. Hormel would comment on the && matter directly on Friday.

The Fijian Embassy in Washington was closed last week, and a message requesting information was not returned.

Mr. Helms' staff adamantly denied having anything to do with the decision.

"Neither I nor Senator Helms has made any comment to anyone on Mr. Hormel's proposed nomination as ambassador," said James Nance, the retired Navy rear admiral who is the staff director of the Foreign Relations Committee.

"We have heard nothing official on this thing," Mr. Nance said.

"The only thing we've heard is from the press. No statement has been made, and no opinion has been expressed."

In May 1993, Mr. Helms challenged the Clinton administration's nomination of Roberta Achtenberg, a San Francisco supervisor, to be an assistant secretary in the department of Housing and Urban Development.

"I am not going to put a lesbian into a position like that," Mr. Helms said.

"She's not your garden-variety lesbian. She's a militant-activist-mean lesbian, working her whole career to advance the homosexual agenda."

She was eventually confirmed by the Senate, 58-31.

Mr. Nance said there would have been no prejudgment of Mr. Hormel's nomination, had it ever come forward.

"We look at a guy and see what he's like," he said.

Although Mr. Hormel would not discuss whether he had been considered for the Fiji post, he did take up the general topic of appointments in a telephone interview on Friday.

"With respect to anything in the area of foreign relations," he said, "we now face a committee headed by Jesse Helms, who has made it perfectly clear that he wouldn't brook such an appointment.

"It's certainly implicitly clear, when you look at how he treated Roberta Achtenberg."

David Mixner, an unofficial adviser to President Clinton on gay issues, said, "It's a disappointment to me that Jim won't be an ambassador to Fiji, but I'd find it very hard to believe that Jesse Helms would have allowed that to happen.

"If they'd moved sooner," Mr. Mixner said, "he probably would have been confirmed before the new Congress."

A White House official, speaking on condition of anonymity, acknowledged on Friday that if there were extraordinary obstacles to confirmation or to effective service, that could affect a nominee's suitability.

Mr. Hormel is one of three grandsons of George Hormel, founder of the meat-packing and food company, and is the chairman of Equidex, a San Francisco-based concern that manages the family's financial investments.

He was one of the founders in 1981 of the Human Rights Campaign Fund in Washington, which describes itself as the nation's largest political organization.

He is also on the board of directors of the American Foundation for AIDS Research and on the board of managers of Swarthmore College in Swarthmore, Pa., which he attended.

Mr. Hormel, who has been active in Democratic politics, was a member of the Democratic platform committee in 1992 and also served as a Clinton delegate at the New York convention.

His companion of 18 years is Larry Soule, an artist.

Through a former marriage, Mr. Hormel has five children and 11 grandchildren.

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