A prominent Chicago businessman and gay rights activist is officially the new U.S. ambassador in the Dominican Republic.
James “Wally” Brewster was sworn in on Friday by Vice President Joe Biden, and hours later the new diplomat married his partner of several years, Bob J. Satawake, according to published reports.
Brewster, who owns a home in the Caribbean country, is the seventh U.S. ambassador in history to be openly gay.
His nomination by President Obama sparked controversy in the conservative Dominican Republican, where religious groups call it “an insult” and vowed they would make Brewster so uncomfortable that he would leave his post.
Local gay and lesbian activists condemned the outrage, saying the words of religious officials were filled with hate.
Nominating a gay man as ambassador should be viewed as normal, according to a statement by the Dominican umbrella nonprofit LGBT Collective.
When he testified at his confirmation hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in the fall, Brewster conceded the backlash he faced in the Dominican Republic.
Without directly addressing or characterizing the anti-gay comments directed at him, Brewster said that some groups in the country continued to be marginalized. He said as ambassador it would be a priority for him to work on greater social inclusion.
“I will continue our efforts to support civil society, vulnerable populations, and the disenfranchised,” said Brewster, who served as LGBT co-chair for the National Democratic Party and a member of the board of the Human Rights Campaign. “Everyone deserves human dignity and respect. Including diverse sectors of the population in the decision-making process to solve shared problems and reduce barriers to discrimination is a strategic and effective way to strengthen all societies.”
Brewster also indicated that he was ready to face head-on those who disagree with his lifestyle.
He added: “I have already begun to see the challenges and controversies I will face in this job, but the rewards of representing the American people, creating a more prosperous hemisphere, and strengthening democracy through our evolving relationship with the Dominican Republic will be far greater than any challenge or controversy I will ever encounter.”
Brewster, who is the senior managing partner for SB&K Global marketing consulting firm in Chicago, helped raise more than $500,000 for Obama’s re-election campaign.
U.S. Embassy spokesman Daniel Foote said in a brief statement earlier this year to reporters that Brewster was nominated because of his skills as an international businessman and his ideas on democracy and human rights.
"Brewster arrives as an ambassador, he's not coming here as an activist for the gay community," Foote said.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.