Carol Felsenthal
On politics

Will Conservative Dominicans Shoot Down a Gay Chicagoan’s Ambassadorial Nomination?

James “Wally” Brewster is a successful businessman, Obama bundler, and LGBT proponent—which is causing tension after Brewster was nominated to be the ambassador to the Dominican Republic.

Last June 21 the White House web site listed Chicagoan James “Wally” Brewster, Jr. among those nominated by the President to serve as ambassadors. Brewster awaits confirmation by the Senate.

Wally Brewster
James “Wally” Brewster, Jr.
Photo: U.S. Department of State

On paper this all sounds magnificent. A Chicagoan by way of Texas, Brewster has had a successful run at business, including former Senior Managing Partner of his own Chicago-based consulting firm, SB&K Global, and, before that, Senior VP of Marketing and Corporate Communications with Chicago real estate investment trust/shopping mall operator General Growth Properties. 

An effective, passionate proponent of LGBT rights, he is a National LBGT co-chair for the Democratic National Committee and serves on the board of the Human Rights Campaign.  He worked hard for the organization, Obama for America,  as national LGBT co-chair, and, with his longtime partner, Bob Satawake, a managing partner at Sotheby’s International Realty Affiliates here,  Brewster bundled a bundle ($500,000) for Obama’s reelection.

And so he reaps the reward: a presidential appointment as ambassador to the Caribbean island nation of the Dominican Republic. Most any posting to the Caribbean is a coveted one—think white-sand beaches, gorgeous resorts, villas owned by some of the wealthiest and most glamorous Americans and Europeans, glorious sunsets.

Unfortunately for Brewster, there’s a pothole in the road to the embassy in Santo Domingo. Government and church officials in the conservative Catholic and Evangelical country—88 percent of the population of 9 million identifies as Catholic—have objected loudly to the fact that Obama is sending a man whom, if confirmed, would be the country’s first openly gay ambassador.

Today, July 15, a “Lunes Negro” or “Black Monday” protest against the Brewster nomination is scheduled. (Opponents of the nomination have been urged to dress in black.)   

One pastor has been quoted as complaining that by posting Brewster to his country, the U.S. is attempting to export its more liberal beliefs on the subject of homosexuality. According to “The Cable,” a blog attached to the magazine Foreign Policy, Brewster’s appointment “…violates a general education law in the country that `all the Dominican education system is based on Christian principles.’”  

The AP quoted Monsignor Pablo Cedano, auxiliary Catholic bishop of Santo Domingo,  as complaining that the appointment showed “a lack of sensitivity, of respect by the United States;” that Brewster’s position on gay rights “is far from our cultural reality,” and warned that Brewster will “suffer” and will “have to leave.”  

The reaction to Brewster’s appointment qualifies as downright ugly, with the website allgov.com reporting that “during a press conference last week, Cardinal Nicolás de Jesús López Rodríguez, who is currently archbishop of Santo Domingo, referred to Brewster as a maricón’—a derogatory terms that is usually translated in the U.S. as `faggot.’”

President Obama, especially since his embrace last year of same-sex marriage, has been a great friend to the gay community. In June alone, Obama nominated five gay men, including Brewster, to ambassadorships. If Brewster is confirmed (and he likely will be), he’ll be the seventh openly gay ambassador in American history. 

The sea change in U.S. attitudes toward homosexuality is evident in the uproar over Bill Clinton’s nomination of James Hormel in 1997 as ambassador to Luxembourg. When Republicans, including current defense secretary Chuck Hagel—then senator from Nebraska—objected, Clinton ultimately backed off on Hormel until 1999, when he bypassed the Senate via a recess appointment. Hormel was the first openly gay person to serve as an ambassador. (During deliberations over Hagel’s confirmation as defense secretary, Hagel apologized to Hormel for comments that included calling the respected philantropist “openly aggressively gay,” which would be an  “inhibiting factor” to “do an effective job.”)

One can hope that Dominican Republic officialdom will give Brewster a chance. In its announcement of the nomination, the US embassy in Santo Domingo explained via its website:  “This nomination, given the close relationship between Mr. Brewster and President Obama, points to the importance of the Dominican Republic to the United States.”

Also nominated by Obama (but not yet confirmed by the Senate) are “political” (i.e. bundler) ambassadors. They’d go to such countries as Austria, Belgium—replacing Howard Gutman, whose troubles I wrote about last month, Denmark, Germany, Italy, Singapore, Spain, and the United Kingdom.

For those Obama bundler hopefuls who have not yet received a call from the White House, the following countries’ embassies are listed as vacant by the American Foreign Service Association (as of June 28): Bahamas, Belarus, Bolivia, Eritrea, Ireland, Lesotho, Madagascar & Comoros, Netherlands, OECD, Romania, Sudan, Trinidad and Tobago, Venezuela.

Some will surely go to foreign service professionals, but a few will go bundlers. You can probably guess which countries fall in the latter category.

Brewster, who is in his early/mid 50s, will replace Raul Humberto Yzaguirre, 73, the longtime CEO and President of the National Council of La Raza. Yzaguirre, citing health concerns, left the post as ambassador last May. 

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