Envoy's nomination fires debate over 'gay agenda' Hormel's support for homosexual causes attacked in Senate

June 23, 1998|By Jonathan Weisman | Jonathan Weisman,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- Not long ago, if the name Hormel had resonance in international circles, it had to do with the exporting of Spam and other curious canned cuisine, not Luxembourg and the exporting of a homosexual agenda.

But in recent months, James C. Hormel -- a 65-year-old food magnate, mild-mannered philanthropist and President Clinton's nominee to be ambassador to Luxembourg -- has become a lightning rod in the Senate. Hormel is openly gay.

The San Francisco investor's confirmation has been blocked by conservatives ever since his nomination was approved by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee by a 16-2 vote in November.

But after simmering for months, the issue is beginning to boil, stoked by recent comments from congressional leaders that suggest they find homosexuality troubling and sinful.

Outraged Hormel supporters say their patience has run out.

Sen. James M. Inhofe was first to turn up the heat by likening Hormel to Klansman-turned-politician David Duke. The Oklahoma Republican said he would oppose any nominee who seemed to be promoting a private agenda.

Trent Lott of Mississippi, the Senate majority leader, jumped into the fray last week with his view that homosexuality should be equated with alcoholism, sexual addiction and kleptomania. His comments were seconded shortly after by House Majority Leader Dick Armey of Texas.

Sen. Alfonse M. D'Amato, a New York Republican who supports Hormel, fired back with a public call for Lott to schedule a vote quickly on Hormel's nomination.

'Injustice,' D'Amato says

"I fear that Mr. Hormel's nomination is being obstructed for one reason, and one reason only: the fact that he is gay," D'Amato, who is up for re-election in a state with lots of socially liberal voters, wrote Thursday. "I am embarrassed that our Republican Party, the Party of Lincoln, is seen to be the force behind this injustice."

Oklahoma Sen. Don Nickles, Lott's deputy, countered Sunday that Hormel "has promoted a lifestyle and promoted it in a big way, in a way that's very offensive. One might have that lifestyle, but if one promotes it as acceptable behavior, I don't think they should be a representative of this country."

The cross-fire continued yesterday when leaders of the American Jewish Congress joined in the demand that Lott quickly bring to a vote the nomination of "an unusually qualified candidate." Only speedy action now could erase "the disturbing impression left" by Lott's comments, wrote Jack Rosen, the group's president, and Phil Baum, its executive director.

The Hormel controversy has emerged as Republicans wrestle on several fronts with their restive conservative base. Moderate Republicans, meanwhile, are incensed with what they see as their party's rightward shift.

The Log Cabin Republicans, a gay Republican group, vows to make Hormel's confirmation a crusade.

"This is no longer a fight over one nominee; there's a much bigger principle at stake here," said Kevin Ivers, the group's spokesman. "Are we going to be a party of people judging people on their merits or are we going to be a party of intolerance? It's that simple."

To social conservatives, it isn't.

Hormel's record

By the usual standards, Hormel's resume would seem to make him eminently qualified to represent the United States in tiny Luxembourg, population 420,000. The chairman of his own foundation, Equidex Inc., Hormel has already been confirmed by the Senate to serve as an alternate representative to the United Nations.

He also served as a dean at the University of Chicago's law school, as a delegate to the U.N. Human Rights Commission, and as a member of Swarthmore College's Board of Managers.

But Hormel has never shied away from an open brand of homosexuality that social conservatives find intolerable.

His canned-meat fortune has endowed the James C. Hormel Gay and Lesbian Center at the San Francisco Public Library. He has attended San Francisco's famously flamboyant Gay Pride Parade and has funded groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union and the gay Human Rights Campaign that incense conservatives.


The conservative Family Research Council has found writings in the Hormel Center that it has deemed "pro-pedophilia," "anti-Christian" and pornographic. The Hormel center's director, Jim Van Buskirk, said Hormel has no role in selecting material for the collection.

"I think it's sad that somebody's generosity in supporting a public library is somehow calling into question his qualification as nTC an ambassador," Van Buskirk said.

A video Hormel helped finance, called "It's Elementary: Talking About Gay Issues in School," is proof to conservatives of Hormel's homosexual agenda.

The Family Research Council contends the video "promotes homosexuality to children as early as first grade." Hormel's supporters argue that it simply fosters tolerance of gays and lesbians.

Most offensive to conservatives appears to be a video snippet of Hormel laughing as the "Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence" cavort at the gay pride parade.

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