The Ambassador of Out

James Hormel's memoir is, at its base, a coming out story

MW: That sounds like a successful memoir.

HORMEL: Then, we came to the last chapter. It is a wrap-up, as well as a look ahead, and we kept revising it because things kept changing all the time. I found that I was talking about things like coming out and how important it is, how essential it is, how it is probably the single most important act that a gay person can perform in exercise of his or her freedom. It not only affects how other people view us, but it affects how we view ourselves.

MW: Looking at now-Judge Paul Oetken, versus your experience, receiving 80 votes for a lifetime-tenured position….

HORMEL: But we still, on the other hand, have a judicial nominee [Edward DuMont] who, after a year-plus of waiting around, withdrew his name because it wasn’t going anywhere – which I find amazing.

MW: You are still one of the prominent gay funders out there, coming out with this memoir, involved in politics. What does that sort of a situation tell you?

HORMEL: Well, look at the book. The title of the book, Fit to Serve, tells a story itself. I really do think that people need to be judged on their merits. And being gay shouldn’t be a demerit – or a merit. It’s just a fact. It should not get in the way of a person being available to do that job. We’ve come to recognize this, finally, with respect to military service. Finally, people realize that what we were doing was licensing people to lie about themselves, which is a terrible thing to do. ”As long as you lie about yourself, it doesn’t matter.” That is exactly the wrong message to send to anybody.

So, we got beyond that. Now we need to get beyond it in terms of federal appointees, and I’m sure that the next round under an enlightened administration will be a cabinet position of some sort.

MW: Is that a nudge toward what should happen if there is a second Obama administration?

HORMEL: I think that one has to look at all the circumstances. You don’t do something that is not realistically viable. If you have a Senate like the current one – which is made up almost half of members of a party which have as their purpose to defeat the president no matter what – then they’re not doing their job and they’re making it very difficult if not impossible for the president to do his job. If he’s up against that sort of thing in a second term, he’s going to have to look at what makes sense and what doesn’t. And, in some cases it might make sense to put up names which will not succeed, because it puts people on record.

I think that’s important. I really wanted to get to the Senate floor, for that very purpose. And we knew we would win.

MW: Where do you think LGBT politics are today?

HORMEL: The attorney that the House Republicans have hired to defend the so-called ”Defense of Marriage Act,” [Paul] Clement, said that gay people are so powerful in the political process that they don’t need any protection, which I think is fascinating. It’s absolutely mind-blowing that he would say something like that. It shows you how specious the arguments are to preserve that act.

But, I do think the LGBT constituency has reached a position where it’s noticed. It wasn’t noticed when this whole process began. Not at all. It was noticed when the Human Rights Campaign Fund filed its first financial report and showed that it had raised a bunch of money. That seems to count here in Washington. That was back in 1982. That was back before we had publicly identified members of Congress who were gay. Now, we have a wonderful one who’s going to run for the Senate [Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin] – and that’s going to make a difference as well. And, her colleagues in the House are some of the most creditable members of the House.

I feel that the constituency is in a pretty good position to advocate for the rights that we do not have. It’s in a pretty good position to point out how we are still second-class citizens. That we are deprived of, I guess literally, over a thousand privileges that are granted, for example, to opposite-sex couples who get married. It just surprises me that people don’t recognize that. But they don’t recognize that because they don’t want to. So, they look to stories – they create stories about traditional marriage, forgetting that, back in the day, people were married before they were born. ”My daughter will marry you, and you’ll give me 10 acres,” or something like that. They talk about the biblical terms of marriage, forgetting about all of the polygamy and the other stuff that went on in the Bible – at least that Bible that they’re referring to, not the New Testament. They never refer to the New Testament, which is very interesting when you talk about being a Christian and then you forget all of the words that Christ said.

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