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Honoring the Late James Hormel - In His Own Voice

Hormel w Pelosi hi-res cropped Pride 2013 - Steven Underhill.jpg.jpeg
Photo: Steven Underhill / Insta: @stevenunderhill
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Then-House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, left, marched with James Hormel in the 2013 San Francisco Pride parade.

On this week's Out in the Bay we bring you the story -- in his own words and voice -- of the late LGBTQ philanthropist, civil rights activist and ambassador James C. Hormel. He died in August after a full and fascinating life.

After a yearslong political fight in which homophobic far-right Republican opponents accused him of pedophilia and more, James C. Hormel made history as the highest-ranking openly LGBTQ U.S. official ever when he finally became ambassador to Luxembourg in 1999.

A Hormel Foods heir, Hormel grew up very wealthy in a place and time – Austin, Minnesota in the 1930s and ‘40s – in which being gay didn’t seem an option. He married, fathered five kids and became a law school dean before the political and social tumult of the 1960s brought a deep personal reassessment.

He shared his story with Out in the Bay in 2011, shortly after publishing his memoir, “Fit to Serve: Reflections on a Secret Life, Private Struggle, and Public Battle to Become the First Openly Gay U.S. Ambassador.”

He described the massive Hormel meat-packing plant in the '40s, being constantly supervised as a child due to kidnapping threats, his repressed attractions to other boys as a teen and young man, working to increase racial and gender equity when dean of the University of Chicago Law School, and later, after coming out as gay and Democrat, his 7-year campaign to become a U.S. Ambassador.

Ambassador Hormel died August 13, 2021, at age 88. In his honor and memory, we bring you highlights of that 2011 conversation. Hear Jim Hormel’s story in his own words and voice on this week's Out in the Bay Queer Radio from SF.

To hear more queer stories, visit www.OutintheBay.org

Eric Jansen is a long-time broadcaster and print journalist. A former news anchor, producer and reporter at KQED FM, San Francisco; KLIV AM, San Jose; and Minnesota Public Radio, Eric's award-winning reports have been heard on many NPR programs and PRI's Marketplace. His print work has been in The Mercury News, The Business Journal, and LGBTQ magazines Genre and The Advocate, among other publications. He co-produced the June 2007 PBS documentary Why We Sing!, about LGBTQ choruses and their role in the civil rights fight.