How James Hormel Used His Spam Fortune to Cement a Place in Gay History

How James Hormel Used His Spam Fortune to Cement a Place in Gay History

James Hormel, who died in August, came from one of America’s most prominent business families who invented spam and used his fortune to help the LGBTQ community. Only after his death, his family accepted his gay relationship.

For many years, James Hormel‘s family did not approve his gay relationship with his husband, Michael Araque, who was 52 years younger than him.

“It was hard at first, but eventually it was like, ‘What are we bitching about? He makes Dad happy,’” Alison Hormel Webb, James Hormel’s oldest child from his previous straight marriage, said at her father’s memorial service in October. This was shortly after Araque and ex-wife, Alice, took turns reading from the Book of Isaiah at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco.

Hormel belonged to one of America’s most prominent business families. He grew up in a 26-room mansion. His grandfather George started the Minnesota-based meatpacking company that his father, Jay, later turned into a corporate juggernaut with the invention of Spam. But James did not want to follow them into the family business.

Hormel came out to his family members as gay shortly after he divorced his wife of 10 years, with whom he had 5 children. “I tiptoed out of the closet,” Hormel later wrote — this was the mid-1960s. But “the more open I was, the more confident I became,” he recalled, “and the easier it was to be out.”

James Hormel became a philanthropist, with a specific focus on gay equality and rights, giving more than $15 million to LGBTQ causes over his life and establishing himself as one of the most generous gay donors in U.S. history.

He provided the seed money for the Human Rights Campaign Fund and the American Foundation for AIDS Research. He also made smaller donations to countless other groups and efforts.

But it was the US Ambassador to Luxemburg appointment from President Clinton, one of the many Democratic politicians to whom Hormel had donated prolifically, that cemented Hormel’s place in LGBTQ history. Hormel was poised to be America’s first openly gay ambassador, and Senate Republicans objected to his nomination not because of his lack of foreign-policy experience — awarding ambassadorships to political contributors was a bipartisan practice — but because of his sexuality. Hormel, Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma warned, was “a gay activist who puts his agenda ahead of the agenda of America.”

After returning to the United States, Hormel resumed his philanthropic endeavors. In 2006, he paid for a group of L.G.B.T.Q. Swarthmore students to attend a charity gala for a Philadelphia gay-rights group. At the event, Hormel met a student named Michael P. Nguyen Araque, who moved in him. The two got married in 2014 shortly after gay marriage became the law of the land.

This article is a summary of a New York Times article. See original