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The right kind of hero

Daniel Hernandez Jr. is not a famous performer, elected official, scientist or business mogul. In fact, before this Good Samaritan helped to save U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords’ life, he was not a celebrity of any sort. He was a college student doing an internship with Giffords’ office.

Hernandez denies he’s a hero, whatever that means. But he does not deny he’s gay, which makes him a hero to us.

While media depictions of LGBT people continue to improve and gay characters and performers flourish in the entertainment industry (as evidenced by out actors Chris Colfer and Jane Lynch winning Golden Globe awards earlier this month), our visibility is often muted in everyday life. Too many of us remain in the closet.

From devout Christian country singer Chely Wright to George W. Bush’s former campaign manger Ken Mehlman, from Latin heartthrob Ricky Martin to actor-turned-talk show host Sarah Gilbert, there has been a virtual Pride parade emerging from closets throughout the world over the past year. But these people exist in a rarified world with which few people connect. They are not the lesbian woman or gay man next door.

Hernandez, on the other hand, is a typical American – a welcome reminder that gay men are not all buff, wealthy, wisecracking elites of the sort who dominate in the media. A 20-year-old trying to get an education and leg-up in a career during harsh economic times, Hernandez is living the American reality, not some rainbow-colored American dream.

Hernandez is also a Hispanic man in a nation that will cease having a white majority population in 2042, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. He defies the ludicrous stereotype that most gay people are white.  

But the most significant way in which Hernandez connects with everyday America is by demonstrating the qualities we all admire – courage, compassion, resourcefulness, humility. At a time when LGBT people are being continually demonized, harassed and ridiculed from the pulpits to the schoolyards to the political mailings of America, the heroic actions of this young gay man are a story that needed to be told.

Americans, gay and straight, need more heroes like Hernandez.

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