James Hormelís motivating factor to be appointed as ambassador to Luxembourg was his sexual orientation. He became the first openly gay ambassador in 1999 after enduring a process he called ďagonizing.Ē
In his book, ďFit to Serve: Reflections on a Secret Life, Private Struggle, and Public Battle to Become the First Openly Gay U.S. Ambassador,Ē Hormel chronicles his experiences as a father and husband and his years spent in the closet before finally coming out and the life of politics that followed.
Hormel sat down with Roll Call to discuss his book and the importance of coming out.
Q: How would you compare the atmosphere in Washington now to when you were being appointed? A: Well, some of the people are still around. Between 1960 and 1970, being openly gay in Washington was really a political disaster. Now I think that it may still be that way in Washington. I donít mean Washington the community, I mean Washington the Congress. There may still be Members of Congress who think they donít represent gay people. The fact is openly gay Members of Congress are being elected, and this is novel.
Q: In your process of coming out, did you hope to inspire change in Members of Congress and break down stereotypes? A: I would say more than that. It was the motivating factor for me to do what I was doing. There were other opportunities for me to serve, and I really sought one that would require Senate confirmation and force Members of the Senate to take a look at their prejudices ó that was very important to me. I didnít have a job to lose. I could be a little more free about my sexuality. It was not just an act of liberation for me. It was a political act, a political statement.
Q: What do you hope to convey in your book? A: I thought that it was very important to see that there was damage and that I survived those circumstances and grew from them and learned from them and discovered that there was a vast generation of people out there who shared my views. Every time I was at the State Department during the process before I was appointed, someone would track me down, somebody would come up to me and say, ĎI canít tell you how much what you are doing means to gay foreign service officers.í When I heard that, I couldnít even think about, ĎWell, I donít have to do this.í
Q: What legislation would you like to see pass for the LGBT community? A: The fact is that, well, the LGBT community is a group of second-class citizens as long as we donít have marriage equality, as long as we donít have protections from discrimination in our jobs and in our homes. There has been a nondiscrimination bill in the Congress for a whole generation now ó it hasnít moved. Congress doesnít like to move on these things.
Q: What could help move something like that through Congress? A: One of the things I focus on in the book is [the act of] coming out. I really do feel that the process of coming out is extremely important.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.