Windy City Times Interviews James Hormel '58

The Windy City Times recently interviewed James Hormel,  class of '58 and former Dean of Students, about his new book and his legacy as the United States' first openly gay ambassador. AN excerpt from teh interview is below, and you can read the entire interview here. You can also read an interview with Hormel (and other former Deans of Students) in The Record.

Baim: When you lived in Winnetka, Ill., in the late 1950s and early 1960s, you actually considered running for Congress as a Republican. [ Hormel received his law degree from the University of Chicago in 1958, and he was dean of students during 1961-'67. ]

Hormel: Who knows what would have happened had I run for Congress? I was a moderate Republican—a supporter of Charles Percy, the last Republican I did support. In the 1960s, I was approached to run—I hadn't been thinking of it. It just came at me out of the blue, and was very tempting. I was young but felt I had a sufficient background to take on that challenge.

But I thought about the possibility of being exposed, because by then I had, even though I was married, I had experiences with other men. Although they were extremely furtive and anonymous, I was in great fear of somehow being exposed—and of not just ruining my life, but my wife's and children's. It was a specter there, way beyond what I could consider.

Imagine the talent that was held back, in the government itself, once the State Department in the late 1940s started outing and going after their gay employees. I'm sure countless people who were quite bright and eager to serve just didn't even consider going into foreign service.

Baim: You were at the University of Chicago in the late 1950s and early 1960s. What do you remember about the city's gay community back then? The bars, the Mattachine group, anything?

Hormel: I did not know about the gay movement when I was here. The movement was hard to let anybody know about it. They met in secret. They met behind closed curtains in people's homes, and used false names, even among each other. Until the 1960s. I lived in the city from '55 to '58, then Winnetka for three years; then I moved back into the city.

I do remember some bars—Sam's, the Gold Coast. They were both on the edge of downtown. I got called "faggot" when I walked by Sam's and I thought, "My goodness, they know where it is!" There were a couple others, up further north. I don't know how I happened upon them, and they were very dark places, and people were inclined to be more relaxed, but still it was always an edgy atmosphere. People were raiding these institutions. The Chicago police had connections with bar owners who were usually Mafia people. They were mostly not gay-owned bars, they were bars that served gay people. They were owned mostly by people who didn't give a damn.

Police would let them know about the raids. They were surprises only to the customers. The Chicago Tribune was very willing to publish people's names the next day—people who were detained. People had to do that, pay off the Mafia and police.


Baim: You are returning to Chicago to speak at the U of C. Any final words about Chicago?

Hormel: I have been in and out of Chicago since living there. Chicago's been very kind to me, and I've been kind to it. U of C is remarkable. There is not another research institution like it that I know—the cross-topical, cross-educational, intellectual curiosity that brings the entire campus together. When you go there to be taught by top scholars, you get them, not their teaching assistants. There's a level of intellectual curiosity and stimulation that is extremely refreshing. The city of Chicago is grand and great and rough and all the things they say about it.