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The Changing Face of Diplomacy

Not so long ago the idea of a gay person representing the United States in embassies abroad was unimaginable. Oh, how times have changed.

Author: Dominic Bocci, Deputy Director, Studies Grant Management
January 16, 2014
The Advocate


In 1994, rumors circulated that President Bill Clinton would nominate James Hormel, the openly gay American philanthropist, to the post of U.S. ambassador to Fiji. While the reason Hormel was not nominated was never clear, some argued that the White House did not pursue his nomination because the Fijian Penal Code criminalized homosexuality at the time. Others opined that opposition from Republican senators would be unsurmountable. Nearly two decades later, appointing openly gay people to ambassadorial posts overseas has gone from an unthinkable act to an unremarkable one, and the shift has made U.S. foreign policy stronger.

It took a special executive action for Clinton to circumvent the Senate confirmation process and appoint Hormel (pictured, left) as ambassador to Luxembourg in 1999—a post that Clinton had nominated him for two years earlier. His 1997 nomination prompted a conservative Christian response, and Republican then-Senator Chuck Hagel declaring that being "openly, aggressively gay" would inhibit Hormel from effectively representing the United States abroad.

After Hormel's appointment in 1999, the vitriolic atmosphere seems to have calmed. Only a few years later, Ambassador Michael Guest (pictured, right), who represented the United States in Romania from 2001 to 2004, was nominated by President George W. Bush and confirmed by the Senate. At his swearing-in ceremony, Colin Powell, then secretary of state, publicly acknowledged the presence of Guest's partner, a historic moment for the recognition of gay individuals in the U.S. foreign service.

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