Gabrielle Giffords’ Gay Hero Intern Speaks to EDGE
Hours before Equality Forum was to have honored Daniel Hernandez, Jr., at their annual International Equality Dinner in Philadelphia; he sat down with EDGE to discuss the day he saved Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords’ life, his activism and what his future holds.
"Receiving any kind of recognition is always really special," he told EDGE during an interview in Philadelphia’s Sofitel Hotel on Saturday, April 30. "It’s always really humbling, but I think being able to be here tonight for the dinner where they’re recognizing [former Pennsylvania Congressman] Patrick Murphy and Dan Choi is really important because it’s more about role models in the community and not just in the LGBT community, but in the community-at large. You’re really able to see people who have been working so diligently for their issues and for their cause. For me it’s really great to be able to share the stage for even a few seconds with these people."
The 21-year-old gay intern traveled to Philadelphia after he attended the scheduled launch of the space shuttle Endeavor-of which Giffords husband, Mark Kelly, is mission commander--at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. He also attended President Obama’s State of the Union address in late January, but Hernandez remains somewhat uncomfortable with the idea he is a hero.
"Having someone who does something as a one off doesn’t qualify as a hero," he said. "The people who are the heroes are the public servants, the people who have dedicated their lives to helping others-whether it’s running for office and being a representative like Congresswoman Giffords, or whether it’s someone who’s a firefighter who goes in day in and day out without expecting special recognition. People who have given up themselves to try and help others; that’s what’s really heroic."
Hernandez described the weeks after the Jan. 8 massacre that killed six and left Giffords and 13 others injured as "really difficult for a lot of people" in Tucson and around the country. "It really was shocking; it was something that was completely horrendous," he said.
He stressed Tucson’s residents have really tried to make sense of what happened and move forward. Hernandez pointed to a fund that seeks civility, respect and understanding to prevent another "one of these" from happening again. An anti-bully program has also been set up in Tucson’s schools.
"We are coping as well as one can be expected," he said. "The best way to move forward is not to move on and forget what happened, but really take what happened and make it into a positive."
In terms of LGBT issues, Hernandez applauded President Obama for signing the "don’t ask, don’t tell" repeal bill and for no longer defending the Defense of Marriage Act in federal court. He remains realistic, however, about the timeline on other issues.
"Like a lot of things that have to do with the legislative process; it’s a marathon, it’s not a sprint," said Hernandez. "We can’t have victories every day. We can’t have victories every month. We can’t have victories every year. The only way you get things done is building consensus and building coalitions-working with others and building relationships and working on things we can all work on together."
Hernandez also said Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer inherited a "very difficult" situation with the state’s ballooning budget deficit and high unemployment rate. That said, however, he stressed state lawmakers continue to scapegoat LGBTs, immigrants and other underrepresented groups for their own failure to address these programs.
"They’ve really been passing the buck and using social wedges as smoke screens to draw attention away from themselves and make it about this issue or that issue," he said, noting cuts to education, the state’s controversial immigration law and anti-LGBT measures. "They’re really used to draw attention away from what’s really important, what really should be the focus. Once we get back on track as a state and as a community, it will be a lot easier to start working on these social issues. Until we do, it’s really easy to demonize many different communities and draw attention away from what really should be the issues that we’re working on."
In spite of the whirlwind through which Hernandez has obviously lived during the last four months, he continues to work towards finishing his degree and figuring out what lays ahead. Perhaps he can look no further than his boss for inspiration.
"For a lot of people who don’t know her, they are really surprised at how well she has been doing and how quickly she’s been recovering," said Hernandez. "For those of us that know her, this is what we expected of her. She’s always been a fighter-whether fighting for her political life in Arizona or fighting for her constituents in the Congress. She’s always been someone who’s had great perseverance, great strength. For us it’s not surprising."