In August, however, he became the target of an anti-gay smear campaign as part of a recall effort hoping to unseat him as well as three other school board members.
One flyers used by those in his recall effort reads, “Put a REAL man on the Sunnyside Board” and also states, “Daniel Hernandez is LGBT. We need someone who will support Sports and cares about our kids. We don’t need someone who hates our values. RECALL Daniel Hernandez TODAY.”
“Ay yay yay,” Hernandez, 23, says with a sigh during a phone interview while driving between speaking engagements. “We’re in 2013 and people still think this is OK.”
The recall effort means he is currently in fundraising mode to keep his seat in office. But that won’t dampen his spirits when he comes to Atlanta where he is being celebrated as an honorary grand marshal.
“I am so excited. I love coming to Atlanta,” he says. “I’ve not had the opportunity to go to a Pride in about a year so I’m excited to see all the great work being done in Atlanta, especially with it being in the south and being a mecca for LGBT people.
“I especially look forward to eating at some of your finer Southern restaurants,” Hernandez says. “You can’t really find that great Southern food in Arizona.”
As a young, gay, Hispanic man, his heroic efforts to help save Giffords put him in the spotlight. He was honored by President Barack Obama and Michelle Obama during the 2011 State of the Union speech and has spoken out on behalf of gay and Hispanic equality in English and Spanish with dozens of local and national media outlets.
Hernandez also wrote a book, “They Call Me a Hero: A Memoir of My Youth.” In the book, he recounts the tragic shooting on Jan. 8, 2011, outside a Safeway supermarket near Tuscon, where he raced toward the gunshots to find Giffords bleeding from a head wound.
He used his bare hand to put pressure on the bleeding wound and held her head in his lap until paramedics arrived, then rode in an ambulance with her to the hospital.
The two don’t speak as often anymore because both are so busy, Hernandez says. He’s busy speaking to various groups and at universities while Giffords and her husband, retired Navy Captain Mark Kelly, founded Americans for Responsible Solutions, a super PAC that raises funds to urge Congress to find ways to reduce gun violence.
Giffords did tweet support of Hernandez last month when the anti-gay campaign made national headlines, writing, “Daniel Hernandez is #ArizonaStrong. He helped save my life. We all benefit from his courage & strength. #StandWithDaniel.”
The people behind the anti-gay flyers are cowards, Hernandez said. And the reason they are coming after him in this way is because they know LGBT people are making amazing advances.
“One thing I said right after this happened is the reason they are doing this is because we’re winning on so many other issues,” he says.
The recent Supreme Court rulings on Prop 8 and the Defense of Marriage Act as well as the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell are major victories in the LGBT movement. Hernandez firmly believes that scares some people.
Hernandez is concentrating on making sure he doesn’t get recalled from his first publicly elected post on the school board. Although he didn’t give specifics, he does want to serve a life in public service.
“I’m only 23 so I have to figure out what I want to do when I grow up. I have to try to make sure I don’t get thrown out of office for first time,” he said.
“That’s the problem with so many politicians — they worry about the next job instead of actually doing a good job in the office where they are now. I’m just concentrating on doing a good job in the office I’m in now.”