Sen. Hagel apologizes for '98 gay slur, James Hormel calls apology 'defensive'

Sen. Hagel apologizes for '98 gay slur, James Hormel calls apology 'defensive'
Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-NB) speaks before U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton addresses the Washington Strategic Concept Seminar on the future of NATO in Washington on February 22, 2010. UPI/Alexis C. Glenn. | License Photo

Update 4:15 p.m.

James Hormel, the target of an 1998 anti-gay comment made by former Senator Chuck Hagel, dismissed Hagel's apology Friday as political opportunism.


"I have not received an apology," Hormel, a gay rights philanthropist and the former Ambassador to Luxembourg, said. "I thought this so-called apology, which I haven't received, but which was made public, had the air of being a defensive move on his part."

Hormel, who spoke with the Washington Post's Greg Sargent, said he though the apology was "only in service of his attempt to get the nomination."

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Original post follows

Former Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Nebraska) has emerged as President Obama's likely choice to replace Leon Panetta as Secretary of Defense, but 15-year-old comments about gay people in the military or foreign service have LGBT groups criticizing his nomination.

Friday, Hagel made a statement apologizing for disparaging an ambassador for being gay.


"My comments 14 years ago in 1998 were insensitive. 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."

Hagel called President Bill Clinton's nomination Ambassador to Luxembourg James C. Hormel, "openly aggressively gay" in comments to the Omaha World-Herald in 1998.

"They are representing America," Hagel told the World-Hearld. "They are representing our lifestyle, our values, our standards. And I think it is an inhibiting factor to be gay — openly aggressively gay like Mr. Hormel — to do an effective job.”

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The next year, he responded to an attempt by gay rights advocates to undo "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," the law that prevented gay people from openly serving the in the military.

"The U.S. armed forces aren't some social experiment," he told the New York Times in 1999.

Hagel's potential nomination as Secretary of Defense has already garnered pushback from gay rights groups.

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On Thursday, the Human Rights Campaign called Hagel's remarks "unacceptable," but left the door open for Hagel to confirm that his views had changed.


On Friday, following Hagel's apology, HRC issued a statement accepting it.

"Senator 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," HRC president Chad Griffin said in a statement.

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"The next Defense Secretary should get off to a fast start and ensure LGBT military families have access to every possible benefit under the law. Every day these families continue to face unfair treatment and the Secretary can take meaningful action to remedy this discrimination."

Hagel may yet face challenges from within his own party as well, but for his positions on Israel, not his record on civil rights. Republican Sen. John Cornyn of Texas became the first to openly express opposition to Hagel, telling the Washington Post's Jennifer Rubin he "can't support a Hagel nomination if it comes."

"I’ve heard prominent Democrats concerned about his position on Israel. Many Republican have said they did not want to prejudge," he said. "But it would be a bad move and one of the reasons I’ve taken the position [to oppose]. ‘Mr. President don’t do that. It would be a bad nomination."


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