For a long time, Hernandez focused his attention on LGBT issues and education, avoiding the discussion of gun violence that followed Tucson and reached a boiling point after the shooting at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn., late last year. For Hernandez, who is partly responsible for 19,000 students, the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School was a wakeup call.
”For the first two years I didn’t really talk about this issue because I didn’t want to politicize what had happened in Tucson. I didn’t want to get accused of trying to change laws just because of this one event,” Hernandez says. ”But as we’ve seen in the last two years, it hasn’t just been one event.”
Indeed, mass shootings have captured the attention of the public and lawmakers as the White House and Congress search for a way to address gun violence in America. Hernandez says the issue can only be solved by looking at the country’s broken background-check system, limiting extended magazines and helping those in need of mental health services, like Loughner, who pleaded guilty and was sentenced to seven life sentences.
While addressing gun violence has taken center stage, Hernandez says he hasn’t lost sight of the other issues that matter, including LGBT issues.
”I think the big link for a lot of these issues is that they all have to do with making sure that the United States and Arizona and everyone has the same opportunities, everyone has the same chances to have a safe environment to go to school, a safe place to go to work and really has the same rights as everyone else,” says Hernandez. ”We can’t have a situation where people are in fear of going to school. We can’t have a situation where people are in fear of coming out and serving in something like the Boy Scouts.”
With a new book and a platform, Hernandez says he hopes to inspire a new generation of leaders to get involved.
”It’s not about being a nurse or being a doctor or being a member of Congress,” says Hernandez. ”It’s about finding what drives you and what makes you happy, and then being able to use that as a vehicle to help others.”
They Call Me a Hero, by Daniel Hernandez, is published by Simon & Schuster, selling for $17.95.