A reluctant hero accepts award in Philly
by Sarah Blazucki
May 19, 2011 | 1472 views | 0 0 comments | 12 12 recommendations | email to a friend | print
The LGBT community needs more role models like Daniel Hernandez. The openly gay intern is widely credited with saving Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords’ life on Jan. 8, when a shooter killed six people and injured another 13 at a constituent event in Tucson, Ariz. Hernandez, now 21, is also poised and articulate, easily more polished than politicians twice his age. The political-science major at the University of Arizona was honored at Equality Forum’s International Equality Dinner on April 30 at the National Constitution Center, where he took time to speak with PGN.

PGN: Do you consider yourself a hero?

DH: I didn’t on Jan. 8, and I still don’t. I think one of the things I’ve been very hesitant about is the title of “hero.” I understand why people use it. I still don’t agree with them, and it’s always hard to disagree with the president, but I’m going to keep doing it. I think one of the things I said at the memorial is still true: The people who are the real heroes are the people like Congresswoman Giffords; people like Gabe Zimmerman, who lost his life; people that are working for nonprofits, people that are doctors and nurses — people that have dedicated their lives to actually trying to help others as opposed to someone who did something as a one-off. As great of a story as it is to have a one-off, what really is heroic is someone who actually gives up their entire life to try to help others.

PGN: What do you think of the attention you have received in the wake of the Jan. 8 shooting?

DH: I think for me it’s very strange to have all this attention because I’m so used to just working in the background. Because of that, I think I’m using the attention that I am getting to really talk about issues that I’ve cared about for years and years and worked on for years — talking about the importance of education, the importance of becoming civically engaged, the importance of LGBT issues. So for me, I’m using the attention I’m receiving to shine a spotlight on things that I’ve cared about for a long time, so I’m not kind of jumping on the bandwagon after something’s already happened, but I’m doing the same things I was doing before, except for now I am able to shine a little light on some of the issues that I’ve been working on.

PGN: Do you think your actions that day have had any bearing on how the LGBT community is perceived?

DH: I think one of the things we were able to see right after Jan. 8 is really how anyone can step up and be someone who does something that’s out of the ordinary. And I think that’s one of the reasons why I was so excited when I was able to work with the American Red Cross to have something called Save a Life Saturday, where across the nation we had 48 states [and] two territories, 110 sites that we had people trained in First Aid, CPR, basic wound care and treatment of shock. In one afternoon, we had thousands of people who came out to this free event. So now we have more people who are trained in the very basics that they can actually use in case they ever have to use skills like that.

PGN: You had just started interning with the Congresswoman. Were you out at that time there?

DH: I’ve known Congresswoman Giffords for years. I actually started [working for her] when I was in her congressional campaign in 2008 as an intern. So I’ve known her for years and, even though I had only been working for five days as a congressional intern, it had been a relationship that I had for years with the congresswoman, and I considered her a personal friend because we had spent so much time [together] over the years. Actually, I don’t think [my sexual orientation] was one of the things that we actually ever really talked about because it wasn’t something that was all that important. It was just a part of who I was. I was an intern, and I didn’t talk about it during my interview. So it wasn’t something that we had talked about beforehand, but it wasn’t something we hadn’t not talked about on purpose. I was an intern, I was there to do work of a congressional intern, and it wasn’t really anything that had any standing on whether or not I would be getting the position.

PGN: What’s your perspective on the immigration debate in Arizona?

DH: I think in Arizona the debate that’s happening is really starting more of a national debate. I think one of the things we’re realizing very quickly is that we can’t have 50 states that have their own individual laws regarding immigration. So if nothing else, I think it’s starting a conversation, which needed to happen a long time ago at the federal level. So all of the immigration reform that needs to be done should be done at the federal level, which is where it belongs. But I think having laws enacted in places like Arizona and other places around the country really starts off that conversation. So I think, if nothing else, it’s good because it’s getting that conversation started for the future so when we are talking about comprehensive immigration reform or any kind of immigration reform, it’s actually happening, as opposed to it just being passed down the line.

PGN: Were your parents immigrants, or where is your family from?

DH: My dad is from California. He’s from Van Nuys. And my mom is from Mexico.

PGN: What are your plans when you graduate?

DH: I have a year left at the University of Arizona, and I’m really excited to be able to do some traveling around the country and come to events like this, like Equality Forum. It’s really exciting for me to have this opportunity. That being said, I’m like most 21-year-olds who don’t really know exactly what he wants to do when he’s done. I have plenty of time to think about what I want to do — whether I want to go to grad school or whether I want to get right to work — I still have time. It sounds like a cop-out answer, but I’m like most 21-year-olds who don’t actually know exactly what is coming next.

PGN: Have you thought about public service?

DH: I’ve thought about public service. I don’t know which way that would actually manifest. I’ve always been interested in working on the Hill, which is one of the things I wanted to do this summer, intern for Congresswoman Giffords in her D.C. office. I kind of know what I could do and what the options are that are out there, I just haven’t really had to think about it. And this kind of delayed everything because I’m in this weird place where I’m getting the opportunity to come to places like Philadelphia and just be a little bit more out there about things that I’ve cared about for years — so, things like higher education and LGBT issues.

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