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Two gay heroes thwart assassinations -- what a difference 35 years make

Daniel Hernandez

A 20-year-old congressional college intern with only five days on the job saved Gabrielle Giffords’ life.

Daniel Hernandez ran toward the sound of gunshots. He pressed Safeway workers’ aprons against the congresswoman’s head wound to stanch the bleeding, and lifted her and held her upright so she wouldn’t drown in her own blood. Photos show him evidently covering her hands with his as he walked alongside her as she was carried off on a stretcher.

Daniel Hernandez is gay, a member of Tucson’s city commission on gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender issues. I bring this up not only because gay websites are talking it up, but because it reminds me of another gay man who thwarted an assassination attempt -- but in a very different time and cultural climate.

Oliver Sipple was in a crowd outside the St. Francis Hotel in San Francisco more than 35 years ago, on Sept. 22, 1975, as President Gerald Ford was leaving the hotel.

Seventeen days earlier, onetime Manson family member Lynette "Squeaky" Fromme had pointed a gun at Ford in Sacramento, but a Secret Service agent had grabbed her.

Outside the San Francisco hotel, a woman named Sara Jane Moore was standing next to Sipple. She raised a .38-caliber pistol and aimed it at the president. She evidently got off one shot at Ford, and missed, before Sipple, a former Marine, grabbed her arm and took her down.

The news coverage that ensued changed Sipple’s life, not for the better, and ultimately had a hand in making Americans confront their stereotypes about being "gay."

Sipple was known to San Francisco’s gay community, where he had taken part in some events, but he was not "out" to his family or to the larger world. News reports, including some in this paper, discussed his sexuality -- perhaps disclosed, some speculated, with a nudge from gay activist and future San Francisco Supervisor Harvey Milk (who would himself be assassinated in 1978).

Milk also opined that Sipple’s sexuality got him only a letter of thanks from Ford, rather than an invitation to the White House. The Times quoted Milk in 1989 about Sipple’s actions: "For once, we can show that gays do heroic things, not just all that ca-ca about molesting children and hanging out in bathrooms."

Sipple sued the San Francisco Chronicle’s Herb Caen and several newspapers for invasion of privacy, but his case was dismissed. By taking the action he did, the courts found, Sipple, and thus his sexual orientation, had become news.

Sipple’s mother never spoke to him again, and Sipple died in 1989.

Daniel Hernandez wasn’t even born when Oliver Sipple died. His heroism, too, is incontestable -- and  this time, his sexuality is apparently uncontroversial, which may be one of the few hopeful things to come out of these murders and attempted murders. At least we won’t add character assassination to the actual ones.


Shooting from the lip in reaction to Gabrielle Giffords tragedy

Dishonoring the Medal of Honor

-- Patt Morrison

Photo: Emergency personnel and Daniel Hernandez, second right, an intern for U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords,  move Giffords after she was shot in the head outside a shopping center in Tucson, Ariz., on Saturday. Credit: James Palka / Associated Press


Comments () | Archives (72)

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Just wait, the right-wing hypocrites will be on this in a heartbeat.


You're really not very affable, are you? I am a conservative. I'm very glad Mr. Hernandez was there to help Rep. Giffords. It's not relevant to me that he's gay, but I wish him well in his life and his career.


Why is Hernandez' sexual orientation worth a mention. He acted as a caring human being which has no bearing on his gayness. And, 35 years ago, sexual orientation had nothing to do with preventing further shooting at President Ford. Rather, give us some insight into the people who tackled and stopped more shooting in Tucson.


Why can't he just be a hero....why does someone have to point out he is gay. Only someone like Patt Morrison would make a heroic act into a so called statement.


I think the reason is gayness is relevant is because so many times gays are villlified for just being gay when it's not relevant at all.... so pointing out positive life saving things gays do normalizes them in our eyes
and there's nothing wrong with that, in my opinion.
as long as gays are demonized for being gay... then it is very relevant when a gay person does something heroic to counter the Republicans, conservatives, right wing "christians" and others who enjoy putting down gays as a group.

Ann Common

Not that conservatives will jump on this but it is worth pointing out as have others that there is no evidence that these individuals' preference in sexual practices had anything whatsoever to do with their heroic acts. Non causa pro causa. Liberals like this author cannot think clearly.

chris B.

Who cares if he was gay. I doubt that had anything to do with what he did. Were the the paramedics str8 or gay? Were the valiant people, that subdued the animal that caused all this, str8 or gay. Was the shooter str8 or gay? Who cares.

Ann Common

A more logical article would have been whether the homosexuality of San Franciso Judge Vaughn Walker caused him to overturn the will of the People of California banning gay marriage in the Proposition 9 lawsuit. Being conservative, I will not allow myself to daydream that this liberal author or the LAT would consider the sexual orientation of the deciding judge in a case about sexual orientation newsworthy.

chris B.

Please post examples of conservatives "demonizing" gays? I consider myself conservative & don't consider, for a second, whether my customers are gay or str8. I consider my gay customers to be the most quality, standup people I know. I feel the same about my Jewish customers. I hear comments about Jews & I cringe.

Ann Common

Typo... Proposition 8

Avsec Bostjan


SPAM OR PRICE ON YOUR LIFE(censorship) http://www.causes.com/causes/562130


When a hero is in any way remarkable, details of personal background sate the public's wish to know (married with 12 kids; a former Marine; a bystander whose personal story hinted at any irony: "He was also a supporter of a Brewer or Angle, who advocated 'Second Amendment solutions' such as the one enacted in Tucson..."), the media often leads a paragraph with such above details within which are embedded a subject's presumed heterosexuality.

That Mr. Hernandez defies the negative portrayals in the media and in the culture makes his sexual orientation just as germane and rife with irony as if the hero had been Sarah Palin herself. Today, Palin is looking a lot like the shrill, divisive and anti-American coward that she is, hunkered down in her electronic bunker issuing backpedaling statements as she shrinks before our digital gaze.


What in the world does sexual orientation have to do with heroism? I am not a fan of the gay movement but the private life of someone who saved the life of another should never be brought up. I don't care if they paint themselves blue in private. They are/were heroes...plain and simple. They deserve to be acknowleged for what they did.


And while on the subject of great gay American patriots and heroes, let us remember Mark Bingham, who heroically and selflessly took on the terrorists who had commandeered Flight 93 in the skies over Pennsylvania on September 11, 2001.


Isn't Hernandez studying nursing? Unless I'm confusing him with someone else who aided Giffords, I heard that he's studying nursing and it was his training that kicked in and helped save her life. Now THAT would be something worth mentioning in an article like this, wouldn't it?

For the people asking what sexuality has to do with heroism, the answer is: NOTHING. But a lot of people [think homophobes] don't realize that gays are many things besides their sexual orientation. They're so ready to demonize homosexuals it doesn't occur to them that gays are just human beings covering the full range of what that means--good people, bad people, kind people, heroic people, etc. Unfortunately, as long as there are homophobes it'll be necessary to continue pointing out that someone is gay AND did something wonderful, like save a life.

John Gotti

Gay Hero? Negro Please................Did he save a "Hard-On"?

baxter miller

I am offended that a hero must be classified to be important. Gay or not I am glad was there and stepped up to save a life. Pat should be ashamed that it takes a a killing for her to make a point about ones sexuality. I don't care about ones point of view, save my life.


If, 35 years later, the fact that Hernandez is gay is completely unnewsworthy, why is it being brought up at all? Is it because he really is gay first and everything else after? Have we really not changed all that much?

Ann Common

You're assuming the LAT Editors have a sense of what's newsworthy and how to think logically.

Speaking of protected classes, consider the race of those comprising LA's Most Wanted: http://www.lapdonline.org/all_most_wanted

Does this give us reason to mention race when crimes are committed? No, and likewise we have no reason to mention sexual orientation or preference when heroic acts are done. Non causa pro causa.


Here's one reason why it's important to note Mr. Hernandez's sexuality: last month Congress voted to repeal the wasteful Don't Ask, Don't Tell Policy. That was a great step because now the military can benefit from the exemplary skills of more gay Americans like Mr. Hernandez. His orientation is relevant to the degree that gay men and lesbians still confront the ridiculous stereotyping that was a hallmark of the Republicans' efforts to retain DADT and current drives to prevent marriage equality.


Sipple's mom committed the ultimate sin. She violated the sacred covenant between woman and child - BECAUSE OF STUPID SUPERSTITION AND SOCIAL HOLIER-THAN-THOU-ISM. Such is the way of the religious nutwings.


Sadly, a few of the comments and my own personal experience show that the basic message of this article is still relevant: those of us attracted to the same sex can still be misjudged in other areas of our lives in overt, and sometimes covert and unconscious ways. There is nothing wrong in pointing out how a group of people that in the past have been marginalized can be recipients of character assassination, and it is good historical analysis to show how society treats gays differently or better today. But, I admit that the gay community has probably pounded this message into the public ad nauseam to the point that many are experiencing gay fatigue. But I can personally relate to what Pat says about character assassination and misrepresentation, and I suppose it is more of a human condition than just a gay one. But aren't most gays persecuted for their gayness and not their hairstyle?


Give me a break....why can't we just recognize them as good people.Why does the LGBT thing have to be part of it?


It's a nice story (the part about saving her life), but I look forward to the day when nobody feels it necessary to bring up someone's sexuality.

Ann Common

If you are going to generalize group characteristics from specific acts you will be hoist with your own petard. Take Bradley Manning, the gay man in an "awkward place"(the American Army) who was responsible for the greatest leak of classified documents in U.S. history (WikiLeaks). Does that mean that all gays are deceitful, untrustworthy sissies? No, it does not.


I wish I was gay.

Ham Alvarez

Honestly, Who gives a rats behind if they are gay!! The fact is they are human beings that did heroic acts. I am dissapointed that the Times have to emphasize the fact that these human beings are gay!! What difference does it make??????????????????????????


I find it sad that everyone and his uncle are using this tragedy for their own political gains. Seriously, who cares about gay, conservative, liberal, democrat or what ever other political label you want to plaster on this.
People were killed, people are suffering and we need a gay or straight head count?
Just wrong LAT, maybe a story of human compassion without the sex would have been better.

who cares

If sexuality does not matter, then why was this article even published. The fact that it makes headlines reminds us that the notion of the "other" continues to permeate in society.


Patt, your hat is too tight. You left out MARK BINGHAM, hero of Flight 93 on 9/11. "Let's roll" was his contribution to the tragedy of that horror.

Perhaps Patt the Hatt is one of those who believes that Flight 93 never happened....


Thanks califmom.

Gay people are everywhere, prob about 10% of the population. Being gay is just a small part of who they are, but it often becomes the only part in the minds (I use the term loosley) of some in our society.

this person did what anyone who understood and was brave would do. but the article about Sipple and how his mother found out he was gay and never talked to him again is a perfect example of the hatred and bigotry in our society.

Statistics - i am a retired engineer, now volunteer for the gay community - For about 25 % of gay kids who come out to their parents, these kids discover that christian love means getting kicked out of your family the day they are 18.

Want a good movie - prob available on Amazon - "Prayers for Bobby". He was a CA gay youth living with relatives in Portland OR. His mother, terrified that he wouldnt eventurally go to heaven, to meet her in the afterlife, nagged him to death, told him he was a sinner etc etc.

Eventually he couldnt' take it anymore, and jumped off a bridge in to oncoming traffic. Strangely enough I was actually in the portland area on bis when that happened, though it was 20 year before I found out why this poor kid comitted suicide.

His mother became a leader in Parents and Friends of Lesbians and gays, a group that works to create acceptance of gay people, just another part of Gods wonderful creation. As of about 3 yrs ago she was living in CA near silicon valley.

Thanks for your comments. What you really show is that when gay people are seen in a positive light, they are accepted by society at large. its just the old stuck in the muds, and the people I call talibangelicals, who create all the problems for them.


I'm sure Congress will reward him for saving one of their own members by continuing the bans on gay marriage and gays in the military.

And, this being Arizona, I hope they checked Mr. Hernandez's papers to be sure he was legal before they allowed him to save a life.

Dino Dinco


Thanks for the story. I found it interesting and I'm sharing it with others. Funny, maybe one day the orientation thing won't be an issue, but it is undeniable that orientation is VERY much an issue and that it extends to issues of love, pathology, rights, laws, victimization, families, abuse and paying taxes (gays do that too) -- taxes that go towards the services of all.

Why point out that Hernandez is gay? Why not point it out, "Ann"? Hernandez identifies as gay and it's important to him as part of how he presents himself, way before this act of heroism. It's not spooky. It's not a secret. And it's not an issue of shame for him, as it shouldn't be for anyone.

"Ann Common" (or whomever you are), you want to eagerly jump to an image of two men engaged in anal penetration when you read the word "gay." That's your choice (whatever turns you on...) That's what keeps gay people invisible and largely unthanked in this culture. When I read that Hernandez is gay, I think, oh cool, a young gay _brown_ guy saved the life of a white straight woman in conservative Arizona where they've passed a law that really affects brown people, gay and straight, both US born and not. I think, nice, a young gay brown guy is getting props for saving the life of another human being who is really different from him -- someone who suffered a bullet going through her head and was close to biting the dust, but no... today she squeezed a doctor's hand and it looks like she'll recover.

"Ann," try to not think about male-male anal penetration for a moment (just try) and put yourself in young gay brown Hernandez's shoes. Outside of a lot of TV and news interviews, he's probably moving on with his life as a young gay brown guy. But think of the gay kids, the brown gay kids, their abusive peers, their abusive parents who read that young gay brown Hernandez saved the life of a straight non-brown women in Arizona. The conversation rightfully elevates and the life of a young gay brown guy refuses to be erased in our collective histories.


The bottom line, and this is kind of repeating things, is that 'gay is relavent in that it helps end the sterotyping (perfect word I plagarizzed) of gay people as less then human.

Yes, we need to come to a time when no one cares if you are str8 or gay, or bi. Except when they may be looking to fix someone up with a date, and things like that. "Johny needs a date to the prom- anyone know a gay boy his age who is looking for a friend with whom to attend the prom"

when that point is reached, and when at the same time, there is zero intolerance of gay people, we will have arrived as a society.

I'd propose that as I wear a wedding ring to say "I'm not looking", we should perhaps have everyone wearing a ring, where the colors, finger used etc, say

I'm looking or not looking, for a M or a F. when being gay is just like being str8 to us, no one cares

And we become followers of Jesus 2nd commandment - Love thy neighbor as thyself" (Ps I actually am Jewish despite the name. changed when I was about 14 because being jewish even as late as the 1950s was not good for biz, my Dad was a saleman.

In a sense I too was in the closet. didn't realize it for 55 years until i got involved in helping the gay community.


I'm glad Patt Morison digs the archives, brings injustice to the page, true masthead labor, deserving kudos, and a good bit of our thought too: Respect is as good we can ever be.

John Gotti

"So two Sodomites in 35 years, stepup"? Sad.

John Gotti

Right Wing, and "On it" in a Heartbeat. Hypocrate? So if I make a commeny, you Name call? Label me with and offensive term? Better a Hypocrate, than a Sodomite............................

Reasonable Person

Ms. Morrison's point that gays do something heroic every 35 years seems to be damning with faint praise.

Also, I have to say that Karma can be quite nasty if what she says about Milk is true.


This article is beyond stupid. This is obscene. What are the sexual orientations of all the first responders? of the cops? of the helicopter pilots? Why is this even a story? The LA Times hits a new low.


Gayness is not the issue here. Perhaps it would have even been better for the LAT if there was one illegal alien latino gay and one Watts black gay involved? Or maybe two midget American Indian gays? LAT please consult a shrink. You're trying too hard to make sociology out of lead! Your journalistic alchemy is a bust!

All Ears

I think the Point is that no one cares that he's gay. And you do realize that this isn't the only article written about Mr. Hernandez or the shooting. Don't like the subject? Move on. If you think America is long over its stereotypes about gays, good for you.

We just ended Don't Ask Don't Tell with some officials still worried about the dangers of gays showering next to straight people, which Barney Frank points out happens all the time at your local gym. Maybe the reason to discuss Mr. Hernandez's sexuality is like the gym-concerned official, some people still need just a bit of education that those in need of saving pretty much don't care with whom you sleep.

I know that's obvious for a lot of folks, but methinks some are still hearing it for the first time.


Wow, what is it 1955? Gay Hero....really? How old fashioned....


Is it relevant that Mr. Hernandez is gay? Not really, but consider if he had he been heterosexual how the headline might have read, "Daniel Hernandez, married father of three, rushed to the scene and tended to Rep. Gifford." How relevant is that? It isn't and yet we see it mentioned all the time. Gay people are heroes that have been rendered invisible for too long. Most of the public may not care, it may seem irrelevant even, but for those who have been invisible it matters.


Why is it relevant (in an ironic way)? Because the right-wing GOP and Tea-baggers who vowed to take out Gabrielle Giffords are rabidly anti-Latino and anti-gay, and even 35 years later STILL spout the same "ca-ca about molesting children and hanging out in bathrooms." Demonizing gay people as less capable than straight people is their bread and butter, so you bet it's relevant.

I love the comments about "who cares" and "why is worth a mention" -- do you realize that straight parents are always mentioned? i.e. "Daniel Hernandez, father of 2, said he couldn't wait to get back to his wife..." -- honestly I wish straight folks would stop flaunting their sexuality in our faces! ;)

Finally, to those commenters using words like 'sodomite', you are part of the problem that is making American discourse toxic.

Phil Reese

Its VERY significant that Hernandez is gay. Not because being gay affected his actions. Its the very fact that they did not that makes this noteworthy.

Daniel Hernandez is a second-class citizen in America. He can get fired from his job just for being gay. He can't sponsor his partner for citizenship. He can't get married. He can't give blood. His family will be taxed differently than other families with opposite-sex spouses. He will pay more for the same health insurance benefits that are given to this straight co-workers' spouses. He can not have next-of-kin status with his spouse unless he goes through a very expensive and drawn out legal process, and even then he may experience hospital staffs, schools, and other entities that refuse to recognize it. Until recently he could not serve in the military.

His landlord can break his leak just because he's gay. He can be refused service in hotels or restaurants. He will be treated differently by doctors and nurses throughout his life. Basic privileges that married couples take for granted aren't available to his future family. He is not given adequate access to the privileges of the Family and Medical Leave Act. He won't be able to adopt his spouse's children. If his spouse was ever on trial, he can be forced to testify. If his spouse dies before him, he will not receive social security benefits, he will not be able to receive his inheritance without hefty taxes, he's likely not to receive pension and other work-related survivor benefits, and he could lose the house, and--worse--custody of any children if his spouse is the parent on the birth certificate. Daniel and his spouse will be strangers under the law.

This is significant because--despite many legal hurdles and being told constantly we're less than other Americans under the law--lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans do heroic things every day. More than that, LGBT Americans work hard daily and contribute to making America better just like everyone else.

What's significant is that Americans aren't more angry that an American hero like Hernandez could be discriminated against in the law so blatantly--just like Mark Bingham, one of the four men who took down Flight 93 on September 11, or Eric Alva the first American soldier seriously wounded in Iraq, who gave his legs for his country, and could have got a discharge as a thank you. Its significant that in 2011 we can't recognize LGBT people as real Americans who deserve the same benefits, obligations, rights, privileges and burdens that all American citizens are promised.


When the Times starts putting "straight" in front of each mention of "hero," or the word "marriage," or the names of people in the news, then I'll come back and read about the news from the LA Times.

Get with the times, LA Times.

John L

As a gay man who had (belatedly) just started the process of identifying my sexuality in 1975, I can assure other commentators that the media coverage of Oliver Sipple at the time was a big deal to me, as was the fact that President Ford thanked him only with a letter. I think the individuals who are commenting with a "so what" or "irrelevant" reaction attest to the enormous change in general acceptance of gay and lesbian sexuality that has taken place over the past 35 years. The purpose of this article, after all, was to point out this distinction.

Robert Kingston

In a perfect world these facts would not have to be mentioned - in our world they do. The number of naysayers and "offended" comments here is a measure of how far we still have to go yet before this becomes a non issue.

Mitchell Young

It is not true that Sipple 'never talked to his mother again'.
"Eventually, the family tensions eased and Oliver Sipple was welcomed back into the fold, says his brother.

"They accepted it," George says of his late parents. "That was all. They didn't like it, but they still accepted. He was welcomed. Only thing was: Don't bring a lot of your friends."

The point is important because I suspect this story to be very much embellished for political purposes.

Speaking of political, I wonder what planet Phil Reese is living on. Just today in the Times there is a story about how, essentially, 'gays' have taken political control of Palm Springs and have made it safe for male homosexuals to expose themselves to one another in public. Woo-hoo!


Fact is there are plenty of 'gay' dominated jurisdictions in the US where the rights of business owners to hire employees that conform to their moral views, the rights of landlords to not facilitate lifestyles which they find disturbing, the rights of parents to instill their moral values as to sexuality, and the rights of just plain free speech, have all been sacrificed to the alter of 'gay rights'. It is true that heterosexuals in most places have prevented the word 'marriage' from being taken and twisted beyond all its original meaning, -- like the word 'gay' itself -- but that is just about it.


So why does the editor believe we care about Mr. Hernandez sexual orientation? I am glad he was there to lend a hand and for his medical help. Thank you for being there!
To the editor: get a life

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