Daniel Hernandez Jr., national hero (LGBT History Month)
University of Arizona student and congressional intern Daniel Hernandez Jr. garnered national recognition when he saved the life of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords at the mass shooting in Tucson, Arizona on January 8, 2011. President Obama acknowledged him for his heroism. Bent Alaska presents his/her story as part of our celebration of LGBT History Month 2011, with thanks to the Equality Forum.
Daniel Hernandez Jr.
University of Arizona student and congressional intern Daniel Hernandez Jr. (born January 25, 1990) garnered national recognition when he saved the life of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords at the mass shooting in Tucson, Arizona on January 8, 2011. President Obama acknowledged him for his heroism.
Raised in Tucson, Arizona, Hernandez has two younger sisters. His mother is a Mexican immigrant and his father is a first-generation Hispanic American. Hernandez became politically energized in response to Arizona’s immigration policies and worked on Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign. Thereafter, he began his studies in political science at the University of Arizona. While attending college, Hernandez served as a campaign manager for State Representative Steve Farley, the minority leader in the Arizona State House.
Hernandez is an openly gay member of Tuscon’s City Commission on GLBT Issues. He worked with the Arizona Students’ Association to lobby the state legislature for students to be excused on Election Day to vote.
Hernandez met Congresswoman Giffords while working on her 2008 election campaign. He began as her congressional intern shortly before Giffords and 18 other people were shot — 6 of them fatally — on January 8, 2011.
Hernandez is credited with saving the congresswoman’s life. He stepped into harm’s way and used his emergency medical training to keep Giffords alive until the paramedics arrived. In his words, “It was probably not the best idea to run toward the gunshots, but people needed help.” His actions resulted in President Obama and others calling him a national hero. He rejects the honor in the belief that any good person would have done exactly the same.
On January 12, 2011, Hernandez spoke to a crowd of more than 27,000 people and 500 media outlets at “Tucson: Together We Thrive,” the memorial event for the shooting victims, receiving at least three standing ovations during his speech:
One thing that we have learned from this great tragedy is, we have come together. On Saturday, we all became Tucsonans. On Saturday, we all became Arizonans. And above all, we all became Americans….
…I must humbly reject the use of the word ‘hero,’ because I am not one…. The real heroes are the people who have dedicated their lives to public service…. They are the people who we should be honoring.
At the event, President Obama acknowledged Hernandez and invited him as the guest of the president and first lady to the 2011 State of the Union.
Hernandez sexual orientation and ethnicity quickly became points of interest in his story — as highlighted in the title and subtitle of a Salon piece about him, “The Giffords shooting’s gay, Hispanic hero: Daniel Hernandez helped save the congresswoman’s life — and yes, his sexuality and ethnicity matter.” A Los Angeles Times opinion article pointed out the the differences in treatment experience by Hernandez and an earlier gay hero, Oliver Sipple, whose thwarting of an assassination attempt on President Gerald Ford in 1975 was eclipsed by controversy about his sexual orientation after he was outed (reportedly with the encouragement of Harvey Milk) by a San Francisco newspaper. Huffington Post reported that “Arizona’s controversial anti-immigration law, SB 1070, those with Hispanic names — like the Mexican-American Hernandez, who is a naturalized citizen — could be asked for papers if a police officer reasonably suspects the person is in the country illegally, a determination the law largely leaves to the officer’s discretion.”
Equality Forum presented Hernandez with the 2011 National Hero Award. He resides in Tucson and plans to devote his career to public service.
Here, via PBS Newshour, is Hernandez addressing the January 12 memorial service in Tucson in honor of the victims of the January 8 mass shooting. Watch: