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Hormel questions sincerity of Hagel apology for 1998 anti-gay remarks

Former ambassador wants assurances for LGBT military families

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James Hormel, gay news, Washington Blade
James Hormel, gay news, Washington Blade

James Hormel (Photo by Michael Nguyen; courtesy Skyhorse Publishing)

James Hormel — the nation’s first openly gay ambassador — questioned the sincerity of an apology that former Sen. Chuck Hagel (R) issued on Friday over anti-gay remarks he made in 1998. Hormel pledged to oppose Hagel’s confirmation as defense secretary unless he affirms before the Senate that he will support equal rights for LGBT military families.

Speaking with the Washington Blade from his San Francisco office, Hormel criticized the apology that Hagel issued for calling Hormel “openly aggressively gay” — because it was sent only to media outlets.

“If there is an apology out there in the universe, it hasn’t reached my office,” Hormel added. “So, until that time comes, I’m just doing my work here. When I see an apology, then I’ll consider it.”

Hormel, who since serving in his post in Luxembourg has become a philanthropist and major political donor, further criticized the statement because it was delivered 14 years after the remarks were made and comes at a time when the former senator is seeking high office. President Obama is reportedly considering him for the role of defense secretary, but hasn’t yet made any announcement.

“Fourteen years gives one plenty of time to reconsider and make whatever amends one might wish to make, and there were none made until yesterday,” Hormel said. “Given that he is under consideration for a presidential appointment, one can only wonder [about] the sincerity of the apology — but I haven’t seen the apology, so I can’t even comment on it. I’ve read about it, but I haven’t seen it.”

The apology from Hagel was published in several mainstream media outlets on Friday after questions were raised about Hagel’s commitment to LGBT rights given his anti-gay voting record as a U.S. senator from Nebraska.

“My comments 14 years ago in 1998 were insensitive,” Hagel was quoted as saying Friday. “They do not reflect my views or the totality of my public record, and I apologize to Ambassador Hormel and any LGBT Americans who may question my commitment to their civil rights. I am fully supportive of ‘open service’ and committed to LGBT military families.”

Despite the statement, Hormel said he would oppose the confirmation of Hagel as defense secretary if he doesn’t assert during the confirmation hearings that he supports open service for gay and lesbian service members and pledge to support LGBT military families.

“I think that if he doesn’t answer that question in hearings, then I would oppose his nomination,” Hormel said. “If through the course of hearings, he didn’t make it absolutely clear that No. 1, he supported the repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ completely and No. 2, that he stands behind the families of LGBT service members to ensure their full rights as citizens, I would oppose his nomination.”

Hormel’s call for answers from Hagel come at a time when LGBT rights supporters are pushing the Pentagon to grant additional partner benefits to gay service members — such as joint duty assignments, issuance of military IDs, use of the commissary and family housing — through an administrative change in addition to the implementation of open service by transgender people.

Even though Hagel’s anti-gay remarks were published 14 years ago, Hormel recalled them with distinct clarity, saying he “was deeply disappointed and offended by it because I had just met the senator.”

Prior to their publication, Hormel said he spoke with Hagel in the senator’s office in a meeting arranged by then-Sen. Bob Kerrey of Nebraska. Hagel had previously voted to report out Hormel’s nomination to the floor as a member of the Foreign Relations Committee. At the time, Hormel said he heard no qualms from Hagel about confirming an openly gay U.S. ambassador.

“He was aware several of his colleagues had put holds on the nomination and indicated that he would do what he could to do to see whether he would have them removed, or in some other way, bring the nomination to the Senate floor for a vote,” Hormel said, “Now, four weeks later, the day before the Fourth of July, this article appeared. So, it was deeply disappointing for me at the time, and I did not understand where in the world it had come from. It certainly did not reflect on the conversation that we had had in his office.”

The Senate didn’t confirm Hormel and then-President Clinton assigned him the post through a recess appointment.

“There were people both in and outside of the Senate who were determined to see that I did not get a vote because they knew as well as I did that I would win the vote,” Hormel said. “And they didn’t want to see that happen.”

After Hagel issued the apology, the Human Rights Campaign issued a statement of appreciation. HRC President Chad Griffin said, “Sen. Hagel’s apology and his statement of support for LGBT equality is appreciated and shows just how far as a country we have come when a conservative former senator from Nebraska can have a change of heart on LGBT issues. Our community continues to add allies to our ranks and we’re proud that Senator Hagel is one of them.”

Asked whether he thinks that statement was wise for HRC to issue, Hormel said, “I haven’t read the HRC comment. I haven’t even gotten through the New York Times article yet, so I can’t really comment on what HRC has put out.”

After the Blade read the statement to him, Hormel still had no comment, saying HRC makes the decisions that the organization thinks are best for its mission.

“I need to see the full commentary before I say anything about it,” Hormel said. “I think that HRC’s mission is to see that LGBT citizens are treated as citizens like everybody else, and if they see the statement they put as a means toward that end, then they’re doing what they’re doing.”

Despite questioning Hagel’s sincerity, Hormel wouldn’t completely discount his apology, saying it represents a “watershed situation” in terms of the commitment public officials must have to LGBT equality if they are to win higher office.

“I think that this is kind of watershed situation because I don’t recall ever before that a nominee for a position like secretary of defense has issued any kind of apology, especially to a group of people who are still second-class citizens in the eyes of government,” Hormel said. “So, I do think there’s some significance to it; I’m sorry that it’s coming at a time which gives rise to questions about how insincere it is.”

UPDATE: Subsequent to interviews with the Washington Blade and the Washington Post, Hormel addressed the issue on his Facebook page, making a shift from his comments to the media:

Senator Hagel’s apology is significant–I can’t remember a time when a potential presidential nominee apologized for anything. While the timing appears self-serving, the words themselves are unequivocal–they are a clear apology. Since 1998, fourteen years have passed, and public attitudes have shifted–perhaps Senator Hagel has progressed with the times, too. His action affords new stature to the LGBT constituency, whose members still are treated as second class citizens in innumerable ways. Senator Hagel stated in his remarks that he was willing to support open military service and LGBT military families. If that is a commitment to treat LGBT service members and their families like everybody else, I would support his nomination.

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8 Comments

8 Comments

  1. brian

    December 22, 2012 at 10:13 am

    “So, I do think there’s some significance to it; I’m sorry that it’s coming at a time which gives rise to questions about how insincere it is.”

    ****************

    The post election White House has developed a serious tin ear to LGBT civil rights. I find it increasingly troubling, whether one favors HRC’s ‘happy-to-have-ya’ stance, or the ‘beware-insincere-press-release-apologies’ caution flags.

    It was just a few weeks ago that WH Press Secretary Jay Carney seemed downright dismissive of questions from the Blade regarding anti-LGBT workplace discrimination by federal contractors– and President Obama’s ability to simply end that discrimination with an Executive Order.

    Now we find that WH cabinet appointment shepherds are trying to paper-over, by way of a public, but insincere apology, the virulence of the homophobia displayed by Chuck Hagel in 1998 against our first openly gay Ambassador James Hormel.

    Thanks to Ambassador Hormel for busting Hagel for that clumsy charade.

    One can imagine the twisted thinking of some at the White House…

    “See! I told you. The President ‘gave’ them his personal okeedoke for Marriage Equality… and even ‘gave’ them DADT repeal before that. Now the LGBT lobby is demanding even more rights for their military families. Outrageous!”

  2. Justin Raimondo

    December 22, 2012 at 6:17 pm

    This story is wrong on the facts. Here is what Hormel says on his Facebook page:

    "
    Senator Hagel's apology is significant–I can't remember a time when a potential presidential nominee apologized for anything. While the timing appears self-serving, the words themselves are unequivocal–they are a clear apology. Since 1998, fourteen years have passed, and public attitudes have shifted–perhaps Senator Hagel has progressed with the times, too. His action affords new stature to the LGBT constituency, whose members still are treated as second class citizens in innumerable ways. Senator Hagel stated in his remarks that he was willing to support open military service and LGBT military families. If that is a commitment to treat LGBT service members and their families like everybody else, I would support his nomination."

    http://www.facebook.com/pages/James-C-Hormel/263356890367751

    Defeat the smear campaign: sign the White House Petition in support of Chuck Hagel: http://wh.gov/nW2c.

  3. Join Diaspora

    December 22, 2012 at 8:43 pm

    A year later in 1999, Hagel told the New York Times when describing his enthusiastic support of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell – the discriminatory policy that banned gays and lesbians from serving in the military:

    “The armed forces aren’t some social experiment.”

    While no Sec Def nominee will pass every test, LGB(T) service members should take pause and at least ask the question: Does Chuck Hagel have an aversion to my sexuality?

  4. brian

    December 22, 2012 at 8:16 pm

    Now our suddenly LGBT-chilly WH and/or its Hagel PR shepherds are referring to public LGBT disbelief at the sincerity of Hagel’s press release ‘apology’ as a “smear campaign.”

    Huh??? So now they think this is an LGBT-based ‘smear campaign’ against poor Chuck Hagel?

    And that’s while they are using (and promoting here on the Blade) the WH.gov to generate an online “poll” in search of popular support for Hagel.

    I wonder if they have a clue just how pathetic and desperate that all looks?

    Whaddaya wanna bet these are the same brilliant PR tacticians that thought it was a good idea to to issue that apology by press release before having Hagel respectfully ask for an opportunity to apologize to Ambassador Hormel directly?

    Deja vu? Call me kooky, but it kinda feels like the first debate in October… all over again.

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National

West Virginia’s capital bans conversion therapy for LGBTQ kids

Conversion therapy is widely opposed by prominent professional medical associations including the American Medical Association

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The City of Charleston, West Virginia waterfront (Photo Credit: The City of Charleston)

CHARLESTON, W.Va. – The City Council of West Virginia’s capital city became the first municipality in the state to enact an ordinance banning the widely discredited practise of conversion therapy. In a 14-to-9 vote, the council passed the ordinance Monday to protect LGBTQ youth from the practise.

Conversion therapy is widely opposed by prominent professional medical associations including the American Medical Association, the American Psychological Association, and the American Academy of Pediatrics. The proposed ordinance carries a fine of up to $1,000 for violations.

“All of Charleston’s children deserve love and respect for who they are, and no one should be in the business of trying to shame or humiliate teenagers out of being LGBTQ,” said Andrew Schneider, executive director of Fairness West Virginia. “Our city’s medical and faith communities came out strongly in support of this bill to ban the dangerous and discredited practice of conversion therapy, and I congratulate members of city council for bravely approving it.”

“The Trevor Project is thrilled to see historic action being taken in West Virginia to protect LGBTQ youth from the dangers of conversion therapy. This discredited practice is not therapy at all — it’s been debunked by every major medical organization and shown to increase suicide risk,” said Troy Stevenson, Senior Advocacy Campaign Manager for The Trevor Project. “We are hopeful that this victory will help catalyze the passage of state-wide protections in the Mountain State, ensuring that no young person in West Virginia is subjected to this fraud at the hands of mental health providers.”

 A total of 20 states, as well as the District of Columbia, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, and 94 municipalities (mostly located in Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Michigan, and Minnesota), have banned the practice of conversion therapy on minor clients. Minnesota and Michigan’s Governors earlier this year signed executive orders that prohibit state funds being expended on the practise.

Research Findings:

  • According to The Trevor Project’s 2021 National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health, 13% of LGBTQ youth reported being subjected to conversion therapy, with 83% reporting it occurred when they were under age 18. LGBTQ youth who were subjected to conversion therapy reported more than twice the rate of attempting suicide in the past year compared to those who were not.
  • According to a peer-reviewed study by The Trevor Project published in the American Journal of Public Health, LGBTQ youth who underwent conversion therapy were more than twice as likely to report having attempted suicide and more than 2.5 times as likely to report multiple suicide attempts in the past year.
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HRC sues Tennessee over bathroom bill as school year starts

“The state’s political leaders are making Tennessee a dangerous place for our daughter, & other children like her.”

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Estes Kefauver Federal Building & Courthouse, Nashville Tennessee (Photo Credit: U.S. Courts)

NASHVILLE – The Human Rights Campaign, (HRC) has filed suit in the U. S. District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee challenging the Tennessee law that denies transgender students, faculty, and staff access to the bathroom, locker rooms and other sex-segregated facilities consistent with their gender identity. 

The suit filed Tuesday by the Washington D.C. based LGBTQ advocacy group joined by the law firms of Linklaters and Branstetter, Stranch, & Jennings PLLC,  is on behalf of two Trans students currently enrolled in Tennessee schools and alleges that the law violates Title IX, the 1972 federal law that protects against sex discrimination in education.

HRC in a press release noted that its federal suit was brought on behalf of 14-year-old Alex* and his parents, Amy A. and Jeff S., as well as 6-year-old Ariel* and her parents, Julie and Ross B.

“Alex is excited to start high school this fall where he will be an honor student. His family relocated to Tennessee in 2018 to build their ‘forever home’ in an incredibly supportive and tight-knit neighborhood and Alex takes pride in being involved in his community and has created strong friendships among his peers at school.”

We didn’t know we had a trans child when we relocated to Tennessee—if Alex had come out to us before the move, we wouldn’t have come here. It makes me so angry that our elected officials have chosen to target trans kids. If lawmakers were to take the time to get to know my son, they would see that he is an amazing, smart, caring, creative person who has so much to offer. Alex just wants to be a regular kid. He should be able to look forward to starting high school without the added layer of anxiety about something as basic as using the bathroom

Amy and Jeff

He came out as transgender before the 7th grade, however, in 7th grade he was not allowed to use the boys’ restroom. Instead, Alex was forced to either use the school nurse’s private bathroom or the restroom that corresponded to his gender assigned at birth—not due to statewide legislation, but instead due to the school policy. Both options were alienating and isolating for Alex who instead stopped drinking liquids at school to avoid having to use the facilities.

Due to COVID-19 pandemic-related issues, Alex transferred to a private school for 8th grade that affirmed his gender identity, including permitting access to the boys’ restroom—Alex enjoyed a great year, without incident. He is also looking forward to starting high school at the public school near his home, but due to Tennessee’s anti-Trans bathroom law, He will again be forced into using restrooms that are stigmatizing or forgo using the bathroom altogether.

To protect Alex, Amy and Jeff are considering moving from their beloved community and leaving their ‘forever home’ behind out of fear for Alex’s safety at school and emotional wellbeing, the statement concludes.

In the case of the second plaintiff, HRC noted: Similar to Alex, Ariel’s family built their ‘forever home’ from the ground up in a neighborhood they fell in love with and that fills Julie, Ross, and Ariel with happiness and friendship.

Ariel began expressing her gender identity at 2 years old and when she was nearing 4 years old, Julie read the children’s book “I Am Jazz,” to Ariel that tells the story of a transgender girl. When the main character explains that she “has a boy body with a girl brain.” Ariel immediately lit up with excitement and eagerly told her mother, “that’s me, momma, I have a boy body with a girl brain.”

Since Ariel began her social transition at 4 years old, her classmates, their parents, teachers and school administrators have only known Ariel as her authentic self. When she was enrolled in kindergarten, her school was receptive and understanding of her gender identity and has largely protected Ariel from stigmatizing experiences.

In anticipation of Ariel starting 1st grade at a different school this fall, Julie reached out to the principal to discuss accommodations for her daughter.

Since Tennessee’s bathroom law is enacted, Ariel will have to use the boy’s restroom or the private nurse’s bathroom despite only ever using the girl’s restroom. Due to her young age, Ariel does not understand the law’s ramifications or why she is being told to use the boy’s bathroom.

The state’s political leaders are making Tennessee a dangerous place for our daughter, and other children like her. We are extremely worried about her future here, and the bills that are being passed have put us in panic mode. They are attacking children that cannot defend themselves for what appears to be political gain over a non-existent problem. We wish our leaders would take the time to speak with transgender youth and adults—instead, their fear of the unknown is unnecessarily leading their actions and causing irreparable harm to these children

Julie and Ross

Julie and Ross are also considering moving out of Tennessee due to these anti-transgender laws out of fear for their growing daughter, the statement concluded.

Under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972; Title IX expressly prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in federally funded education programs. In June the U.S. Education Department announced it would expand its interpretation of federal sex protections to include transgender and gay students. The new policy directive means that discrimination based on a student’s sexual orientation or gender identity will be treated as a violation of Title IX.

The lawsuit also alleges that the law violates the Equal Protection and Due Process Clauses of the U.S. Constitution. Earlier this month, the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to deny certiorari in Grimm v. Gloucester County School Board left in place a federal circuit court decision recognizing the rights of transgender students under the Equal Protection Clause and Title IX.

In July a federal judge blocked a new law in Tennessee that required businesses and other entities that allow transgender people to use the public restroom that matches their gender to post a government-prescribed warning sign.

“This law is bad for businesses in Tennessee, and most importantly, harmful to transgender people,” said Hedy Weinberg, ACLU of Tennessee executive director. “We are glad the court saw that this law is likely unconstitutional and hope that the state gives up the wasteful effort to defend discrimination and a violation of the First Amendment.”

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Federal prosecutors declined to prosecute 82% of hate crimes

DOJ report says ‘insufficient evidence’ was main cause

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U.S. Department of Justice

Federal prosecutors, who are referred to as United States Attorneys, declined to prosecute 82 percent of 1,864 suspects investigated for violating federal hate crime laws in all 50 states and D.C. during the years of 2005 to 2019, according to a newly released report by the U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Statistics.

The 15-page report, released on July 8, cites insufficient evidence as the reason suspects were not prosecuted in 55 percent of the federal hate crime cases. The report says “prioritization of federal resources” was the reason for a decision not to prosecute 15 percent of the suspects. 

It says 13 percent of the suspects were not prosecuted by U.S. Attorneys because the suspect was “subject to the authority of another jurisdiction,” and another 13 percent were not prosecuted because the federal government lacked legal jurisdiction to file a hate crime charge. 

The report, entitled Federal Hate Crime Prosecutions, 2005-2019, does not disclose the category of the victims targeted for a hate crime by the suspects whose cases were or were not prosecuted. 

In its annual hate crimes report as required under the U.S. Hate Crimes Statistics Act, the FBI provides information on hate crimes based on a victim’s race/ethnicity/ancestry; religious affiliation; sexual orientation; gender identity; disability; and gender.

The FBI’s most recent hate crimes report released in November 2020, and which covers the year 2019, shows that hate crimes based on a victim’s sexual orientation represented 16.8 percent the total number of hate crimes reported to the FBI for that year, the third largest category after race and religion. 

The FBI report shows that 4.8 percent of the total hate crimes reported to the FBI in 2019 were based on the victim’s gender identity. 

These figures suggest that at least some of the hate crimes cases that U.S. Attorneys declined to prosecute were cases involving LGBTQ people as victims. 

The Bureau of Justice Statistics report also does not disclose whether or how many of the suspects who were not prosecuted for a hate crime violation were prosecuted for the underlying criminal offense that was investigated by federal prosecutors as a possible hate crime.

Law enforcement officials, including D.C. police officials, point out that a hate crime is not a crime in and of itself but instead is a designation added to an underlying crime such as assault, murder, destruction of property, and threats of violence among other criminal offenses. Most state hate crimes laws, including the D.C. hate crimes law, call for an enhanced penalty, including a longer prison sentence, for a suspect convicted of a crime such as murder or assault that prosecutors designate as a hate crime. 

Tannyr M. Watkins, a spokesperson for the DOJ’s Bureau of Justice Statistics, told the Blade in response to a Blade inquiry that the bureau did not have access to data it received from U.S. Attorney’s offices throughout the country about whether hate crime suspects were prosecuted for an underlying crime when the U.S. Attorney’s declined to prosecute the suspect for a hate crime.

The Bureau of Justice Statistics report released last month says that out of the 17 percent, or 310, of the hate crime suspects who were prosecuted between 2005-2019, 92 percent, or 284, whose cases were brought before a U.S. District Court, were convicted. And 85 percent of those convicted received a prison sentence, the report says. 

“Forty percent of the 284 hate crime convictions during 2005-2019 occurred in federal judicial districts in six states – New York (30), California (26), Texas (19), Arkansas (15), Tennessee (13), and Pennsylvania (12),” the report states. It says that during this 15-year period all but 10 states saw at least one hate crime conviction. In addition, there were two federal hate crime convictions in D.C. during that period, according to the report.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia, unlike U.S. Attorneys in the 50 states, prosecutes criminal offenses under both D.C. law and federal law under D.C.’s limited home rule government. In the 50 states, most hate crimes are believed to be prosecuted by state and local prosecutors.

Former D.C. U.S. Attorney Jessie Liu has stated that the D.C. Office of the U.S. Attorney has prosecuted most criminal cases in which a hate crime arrest was made but the office dropped the hate crime designation due to lack of sufficient evidence. Liu said the office has continued to prosecute the suspect for the underlying charge, which often included a charge of assault or destruction of property.

The Bureau of Justice Statistics report says U.S. Attorneys use five federal hate crimes related statutes to prosecute suspects for hate crimes. Among them is the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2009, which is the only federal hate crimes law that includes protections for LGBTQ people.

LGBTQ activists hailed the Shepard-Byrd law as an important breakthrough because it authorizes federal prosecutors to prosecute anti-LGBTQ hate crimes in states whose hate crimes laws do not cover hate crimes based on the victim’s sexual orientation or gender identity.

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