A Diplomatic Firestorm

President ClintonÂ's appointment of James Hormel as U.S. ambassador to Luxembourg elated gay rights advocates and enraged some conservative groups. CBS News Sunday Morning Correspondent Rita Braver talks to some people on both sides of the issue in her latest column for CBS.com. An archive of The Braver Line is available. She can be reached by email at rbc@cbsnews.com.

The atmosphere at his State Department swearing-in was jubilant, with his children and grandchildren (he came out during his divorce in 1966), other gay administration officials and friends from groups like the Human Rights Campaign.

Outside the State Department the atmosphere was heated--and it wasnÂ't just the stifling Washington weather. Representatives from the Traditional Values Coalition, Concerned Women of America and Tradition, Family, Property, Inc. attacked HormelÂ's appointment as "one more step in the overall degradation of our culture."

Hormel, heir to the Hormel Chili fortune, drew so much flack because heÂ's a philanthropist who among many other charitable contributions has given money to gay rights causes. His critics complain that the Gay and Lesbian Center at the San Francisco Public Library that he helped fund contains examples of pedophilia and pornography. But the library says Hormel had nothing to do with the selection of anything there. Hormel is also accused of laughing approvingly during a parade at some demonstrators making obscene fun of Catholic nuns. He denies the charge.

HormelÂ's nomination was approved by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee but never got to the floor because of a hold by a handful of Republican senators. The president finally gave Hormel a recess appointment, which really made some of the senators mad, especially Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma. But now Inhofe seems to have dropped the issue after revelations that some of his staffers were downloading pornography from the Internet onto their taxpayer-funded computers. And so it goes.

But the battle over Hormel has raised a lot of other thorny issues, because if you talk to opponents it becomes clear that itÂ's not only his specific case that they find so upsetting, but also the broader issue of homosexuals coming out of their closets.

"We believe itÂ's (homosexuality) a dangerous choice," Andrea Sheldon of the Traditional Rights Coalition told me. "The problem is that there is promoting [of] this in school but theyÂ're not teaching kids that people die from--people that are homosexuals perhaps will get AIDS, and that is a very terrible disease and a very painful disease. They have glamorized it. They have not told the truth on homosexuality."

Sheldon is more than entitled to her own opinion about whether homosexuals should serve in government, but a reprter has to question the logic of some of her arguments. For starters, I know lots of parents and none of them have ever told me that homosexuality was being promoted at their childrenÂ's schools. Nor have I ever heard of any medical experts who say that being homosexual automatically leads to AIDS.

And when I asked Sheldon, donÂ't heterosexuals get AIDS as well, her answer was, "Right. Right. But thereÂ's...some curriculum out right now that teaches that it is age appropriate to talk to kids in kindergarten about sex change operations, to be gay, lesbian or even bisexual without really... and then even as kids get older they donÂ't talk about what that really means. And those homosexuals engage in risky sexual behaviors, which is very dangerous."

Only homosexuals engage in risky behavior?

SheldonÂ's other startling claim is that homosexuals insist on talking about their sexual orientation all the time. "ItÂ's important for them to make that be the first thing that they talk about," she said. She continued, "but see now, more and more theyÂ're feeling the need to come out and to talk about that they are homosexuals or that theyÂ're bisexuals or that theyÂ're transgendered, that theyÂ're cross dressers. This is very important, very important for them. And thatÂ's why theyÂ're of such great concern. Because no longer are they just in the closet or in the bedroom...TheyÂ're now in the classroom, they are on TV."

How did we get from homosexuals to transgender? Is Ms. Sheldon watching a bit too much Jerry Springer?

In my experience, many gays and lesbians in public life are reluctant to talk about their sexual orientation because they prefer to be noted for their work and accomplishments.

As for SheldonÂ's implication that homosexuals are trying to recruit others, Neil Giuliano, the openly gay Republican Mayor of Tempe, Arizona, says, "You know, everyone talks about how that gay people are out there recruiting. I was recruited to be heterosexual my entire life...and IÂ'm not. And so I think the coming out process, and the self-acknowledgment process of oneÂ's sexual orientation is a very, very individual thing."

Sheldon, along with many others, believes that the Bible teaches that homosexuality is a sin.

Giuliano says "If someone holds a deeply religious belief based on scripture, or based on their own beliefs about homosexuality, I personally donÂ't try to change their minds. I donÂ't want anyone trying to change my religious beliefs...I have very deeply held religious beliefs, and a strong relationship with God."

Giuliano insists that as straight people start to meet more gay people, "They realize that theyÂ're the same. They care about the same things. We care about our families...our friends. We want to be successful...to do a good job and to do so with integrity."

Maybe he and Andrea Sheldon ought to go to lunch.