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Gay intern credited with saving Giffords

‘I heard gunshots, I ran toward where the congresswoman would be’

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(Photo courtesy of Hernandez)

For Danny Hernandez, the shootings on Saturday in Tucson, Ariz., that critically wounded Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) were a life-changing moment during which many say he demonstrated unparalleled heroism.

Hernandez, who’s gay and had worked as an intern for Giffords for just five days at the time of the shooting, is credited with providing the first aid that saved her life.

In an interview with Washington Blade, Hernandez, 20, a political science student at the University of Arizona, said he was tasked with signing in visitors at the “Congress on Your Corner” event when the shooting began.

“About 10 minutes after the event started, I heard gunshots,” he said. “I heard someone say ‘Gun!’ I ran toward where the congresswoman would be.”

Giffords, who was shot in the forehead, was among the 20 people shot by 22-year-old gunman Jared Loughlin, who used a semi-automatic pistol with an extended magazine during his attack. Six people were killed, including five who died at the scene and a 9-year-old girl who died at the hospital.

“The attitude that I had,” Hernandez said, “was trying to make sure that those who had been injured were going to be OK, so to try to provide whatever first aid I could until someone else could come in and take over.”

When he reached Giffords, Hernandez said he noticed others had been shot, and said his first priority was to determine who was still alive.

“Once I saw that the congresswoman was still alive, but she had been severely injured, she became my first priority, not because of her position, but because of the severity of her wounds,” Hernandez said.

After assessing Giffords’s injuries, Hernandez propped her up against his chest to keep her from asphyxiating on her own blood. Once she was able to breathe again, Hernandez applied pressure to stem the blood loss as much as possible.

Medics arrived on the scene to take Giffords and others to the University Medical Center in Arizona. Doctors are now optimistic about her recovery. The first aid provided by Hernandez, who said his only training was through a certified nursing assistant program in high school, is widely seen as responsible for saving her life.

Amid the media frenzy and shock over the shootings, Hernandez has emerged a figure of hope after rushing into danger to save Giffords. In the days since the shooting, Hernandez has appeared on national TV for interviews with CNN, the “Today” show and MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow.

Back home in Arizona, Hernandez has been praised for his actions. The Arizona State Legislature on Monday gave him a standing ovation after Gov. Jan Brewer (R) applauded his deeds during her State of the State address.

“Daniel Hernandez, a University of Arizona junior showed no fear in the face of gunfire,” Brewer said. “His quick action in going to Gabby Giffords’s aid likely saved her life.”

Hernandez said he was “very proud” to receive the honor afforded to him by the state legislature and the Arizona governor, but expressed modesty over his accomplishment.

“I’m a little press shy, and trying to control it as much as possible because the only thing I really care about right now is making sure that those people who survived get better and that we give support to their family members,” he said.

Hernandez also demurred when asked by the Blade whether he thinks he should be labeled a hero for his actions.

“Using words like ‘hero,’ I think, is kind of not the appropriate word because although those who did step in and took some action were brave, the real heroes are the people like Congresswoman Giffords … and the people who dedicated their lives to public service,” Hernandez said.

Dedicating much of her life to public service, Giffords was elected to the Arizona State Legislature in 2000 before becoming a congresswoman in 2007. Seen by many as a liberal for her support for abortion rights, health care reform and the stimulus package, Giffords beat her Republican opponent, Tea Party candidate Jesse Kelly, to win re-election in November 2010.

Hernandez said he wanted to work for Giffords because he’s been following her since she was a state legislator. After a stint working on Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign in 2008, Hernandez said he had many interactions with Giffords and they became friends. After she won re-election last year, he decided to go to work for her.

“She was just an impressive person whom I always admired,” Hernandez said. “And in November of 2010, after she won her seat here again, one of the first things I did after she won was to make sure I applied to an internship with her office because I wanted to continue working with her as much as possible.”

On LGBT issues, Giffords’s record is mostly positive. The Human Rights Campaign gave her a score of 81 out of 100 for support for pro-gay legislation in the 110th Congress.

Giffords voted for hate crimes protections legislation and repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” She additionally was a co-sponsor of a trans-inclusive Employment Non-Discrimination Act. She was not a co-sponsor of the Uniting American Families Act or legislation that would repeal the Defense of Marriage Act.

Even though he has a background in political science, Hernandez said LGBT issues haven’t been one of his priorities and said he’s more interested in public service in general.

“That’s why I worked for her office, not because of any one issue but because I wanted to be involved and wanted to be involved in the political process and trying to help others,” he said.

The degree to which political discourse in America influenced the shootings has emerged as a central discussion topic. Many pundits have questioned whether right-wing rhetoric against health care reform, which Giffords’ supported, contributed to the action that nearly took her life.

Giffords was among 20 members of Congress targeted by Sarah Palin on her website for supporting health care reform. Palin’s site included a map with Giffords’s district depicted in crosshairs. The map has been removed from Palin’s site.

John Aravosis, the gay editor of Americablog, said Palin “shares a great deal of responsibility” for feeding what he called “America’s culture of violence.”

“Just go to Western Europe, walk around in any capital at 2 or 3 in the morning, then try to do the same in Washington, D.C.,” Aravosis said. “It’s different in America.”

Aravosis said conservative leaders like Palin — as well as personalities like Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh — tap into the culture of violence in the hopes that it will help Republicans win elections.

Among other things, Aravosis accused conservatives of contributing to violence by saying health care reform would lead to death panels for the elderly and insisting that President Obama pals around with terrorists.

“It’s the GOP that’s cheapened political discourse, since the founding of conservative talk radio, and things only went downhill when they created Fox,” Aravosis said. “I have no idea what can be done about it, other than shaming them, and hoping they learn to restrain themselves.”

Hernandez said he also believed the shootings show that political discourse in the country is “something that needs to change.”

“I think, if there’s anything that can be learned from this tragic incident, it’s that we need to make sure that we cut down on the fiery rhetoric,” he said. “Instead of trying to tear each other down and work on destructive criticism on both sides, we need to kind of come together as a nation regardless of every factor and try to work constructively to move this nation forward.”

In a video posted online Wednesday, Palin disputed the notion that conservative political discourse in some way contributed to the violence last week in Tucson and said people were making “irresponsible statements” to assign blame for the event.

“It is time to restore the American precept that each individual is accountable for his actions,” she said. “Acts of monstrous criminality stand on their own and they begin and end with the criminals who committed them, not collectively with all the citizens of a state, not with those who listen to talk radio, not with maps of swing districts used by both sides of the aisle, not with law-abiding citizens who respectfully exercise their First Amendment rights at campaign rallies, not with those who proudly voted in the last election.”

Asked whether he thinks Palin had a role in prompting the shootings, Hernandez said he’s not part of the investigation and doesn’t know what the causes were.

“I think the only thing that I can say is making sure that, in the future, we cut down on any kind of rhetoric, especially things that can be seen as something that may cause some violence in the future,” he said.

What does the future hold for Hernandez? He said he wants to pursue a role in public service and isn’t ruling anything out as part of that path.

“I don’t know in what capacity,” Hernandez said. “I’m not ruling anything out, but, right now, it’s too soon.”

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U.S. Supreme Court

Supreme Court declines to hear lawsuit against Montgomery County schools gender guidelines

4th Circuit last August dismissed parents’ case

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U.S. Supreme Court (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday declined to hear a lawsuit against Montgomery County Public Schools guidelines that allow schools to create plans in support of transgender or gender nonconfirming students without their parents’ knowledge or consent.

Three parents of students in the school district — none of whom have trans or gender nonconfirming children — filed the lawsuit. 

A judge on the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals last August dismissed the case. The plaintiffs appealed the decision to the Supreme Court.

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National

Bill to support LGBTQ seniors in rural areas reintroduced

Advocates praise Elder Pride Act

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(Washington Blade file photo by Lou Chibbaro, Jr.)

Representatives Suzanne Bonamici (D-Ore.), Mark Pocan (D-Wis.), and Sharice Davids (D-Kan.) reintroduced legislation to increase access to needed services and resources for LGBTQ seniors who live in rural areas this week.

The Elder Pride Act would bolster the capacity and ability of Area Agencies on Aging located in rural communities to better serve and support LGBTQ seniors who often require affirming care, services, and supports that are often underfunded and scarce in many parts of the country.

Recent surveys show that between 2.9 million and 3.8 million LGBTQ people live in rural American communities.

“LGBTQ+ elders and older people living with HIV live in every part of this nation, including rural areas. We all deserve to be able to age in our communities with the services and supports we need to remain independent,” SAGE CEO Michael Adams said in the press release announcing the reintroduction of the legislation. “We commend Representatives Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR), Mark Pocan (D-WI), and Sharice Davids (D-KS) on reintroducing the Elder Pride Act. And we honor the contributions of our many LGBTQ+ trailblazers whose tireless advocacy allowed us to reintroduce this critical bill. We look forward to working alongside Reps. Bonamici, Pocan, and Davids, and our LGBTQ+ pioneers nationwide to pass this legislation.”

“LGBTQI+ seniors should be able to access services and care that meets their unique needs, regardless of where they live,” said Bonamici, chair of the Equality Caucus’s LGBTQ+ Aging Issues Task Force.”Those who live in rural areas frequently face increased barriers, which Congress can break down. The Elder Pride Act will increase resources for programs and services that will improve the lives of LGBTQI+ elders.”

“The Elder Pride Act will improve the overall health and social and economic well-being of LGBTQI+ older adults and seniors living with HIV in rural areas by better equipping senior service providers with resources to address the unique needs of these communities. I’m pleased to introduce this important legislation with my colleagues and co-leaders on the Equality Caucus, Reps. Pocan and Davids,” Bonamici added.

“Rural LGBTQI+ seniors have been lacking access to necessary services and care for too long,” said Pocan, co-chair of the Congressional LGBTQ+ Equality Caucus. “The Elder Pride Act creates opportunities for LGBTQ+ seniors in rural communities, benefiting everyone in the region. I look forward to advancing this important legislation.”

“Many of our LGBTQ+ elders fought tirelessly for equality in a world that refused to accept their identity,” said Davids. “While they overcame tremendous odds to give future generations the rights they deserve, our elders, particularly those in rural communities, continue to face discrimination when accessing long-term care and healthcare. I am proud to support the Elder Pride Act because who you are and who you love should never increase your risk for isolation, poverty, and poor health outcomes as you age.”

The Elder Pride Act complements the Older American Act, which was updated under Bonamici’s leadership, by establishing a rural grant program designed to fund care and services for LGBTQ seniors. The grant would also support programs that:

• Provide services such as cultural competency training for service providers;

• Develop modes of connection between LGBTQI+ older adults and local service providers and community organizations;

• Expand the use of nondiscrimination policies and community spaces for older adults who are members of the LGBTQI+ community or another protected class; and,

• Disseminate resources on sexual health and aging for senior service providers.

A fact sheet on the legislation can be found here, and the full text can be found here.

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State Department

State Department travel advisory warns of potential anti-LGBTQ violence

FBI issued similar warning this week

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(Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress)

The State Department on Friday issued a worldwide travel advisory that warns of potential violence against LGBTQ people and LGBTQ-specific events.

“Due to the potential for terrorist attacks, demonstrations, or violent actions against U.S. citizens and interests, the Department of State advises U.S. citizens overseas to exercise increased caution,” reads the advisory. “The Department of State is aware of the increased potential for foreign terrorist organization-inspired violence against LGBTQI+ persons and events and advises U.S. citizens overseas to exercise increased caution.”  

The advisory further urges U.S. citizens to:

  • Stay alert in locations frequented by tourists, including Pride celebrations and venues frequented by LGBTQI+ persons.
  • Enroll in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) to receive information and alerts and make it easier to locate you in an emergency overseas.
  • Follow the Department of State on Facebook and Twitter.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Homeland Security Investigations earlier this week issued a similar advisory.

The advisory notes June 12 will mark eight years since the massacre at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Fla.

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