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Out and
outstanding

by

Denny Meyer

On Thursday Jan 13, Time.com posted an article about Daniel Hernandez, one of the Tucson heroes cited by President Obama in his memorial speech the day before.  Hernandez ran toward Congresswoman Giffords moments after she was shot in the head, in an attempted assassination, and held her up to prevent her choking on her own blood, comforted her and used his EMT training until help arrived, he then accompanied her in the ambulance.  He’d only been working for Giffords for five days when he volunteered to help at her “Streetcorner Congress.”  About three quarters of the way through the article, Time notes that Hernandez is gay.  At age 20, Hernandez is not in the closet; what 20 year old is these days?  He is a member of the Tucson LGBT Commission, according to Time, and is apparently well known locally in the LGBT community.

Yet, a blogosphere controversy erupted with some saying that it was wrong to out him nationally, others saying that the fact that he's gay got him singled out for special attention or that his sexual orientation is irrelevant to the story, and yet others saying that it is in fact important to note that he's gay in order to counter discriminatory stereotypes about gay people.  A good way to test these opinions is to change the identity to black or Jewish or Bangladeshi and see of any of that sounds prejudiced or relevant to mention or not.  If you are not generally prejudiced against those different from yourself, there seems little difference in relevance when you change the identity in the case of this story.  So, mentioning that Hernandez happens to be gay is just an interesting fact about this hero, no different than the fact that he also happens to be a Hispanic American.  We want to know about our heroes and its interesting to note how ordinary they can be.

Thirty years ago another ordinary gay hero put himself in the way of another assassination attempt; a Marine, Vietnam Veteran, and Purple Heart recipient named Oliver Sipple prevented some lunatic from killing President Ford.  At that time, it was a major scandal for him to have been outed in the news stories about him.  Today, we have progressed to the point where it's simply an interesting fact along with what our hero might have had for breakfast that day.

Daniel Hernandez did not become a hero because he's Hispanic and gay, he ran 'towards' danger like any ordinary hero because he wanted to help and happened to know what he was doing.

What controversy there is seems to be between those bigots who simply cannot stand seeing any minority praised, and members of a minority who can't stand a member of their group standing out and consequently stirring up the resentment of bigots.  Ahh diversity!  Both groups seem stuck in the prejudices of the past.

This brings us to discussing how today's young patriotic gay and lesbian volunteers ought to conduct themselves now that they will be able to be out in our armed forces.  One view would be that just because they can be out does not mean that they should be out.  Along with that is the view that if they are out they should not be outstanding because it "might cause resentment."  If that sounds familiar, it should; it was what was told to blacks, and women, and Jews.  I cannot imagine telling today's young lesbian and gay patriotic volunteers to Not Stand Out.  They have never been in the closet, and we didn't do this long battle for our rights just to tell them to go hide in the closet because otherwise some damn bigot MIGHT resent them.

Imagine people having advised Martin Luther King, Jr. and Barack Obama, "Don’t make trouble by standing out, it will only stir up resentment."  It is because of them that young Americans today, regardless of race or ethnicity, know that they can and should be outstanding because they can become whatever they want without limit.  I do not have to imagine Leonard Matlovich and Dan Choi being told that.  They were told that…. by people who resented them standing out. If they'd paid the slightest attention to that, the victorious repeal of DADT might never have happened.

My advice to today's young patriotic out gay and lesbian volunteers is:  If you want to stand out, be Outstanding.

When I joined up in 1968, I was advised by stuffy old Jewish relatives, "Don’t make a spectacle of yourself, people will resent a Jew standing out …" If  I'd listened to that crap, I’d never have been among the first in Admiral Zumwalt's New Navy to make E-5 in under 4 years, and I'd certainly never have become a Sgt. First Class in the highly anti-Semetic Army Reserve that I later found myself in.  I stood up for my subordinates, and I stood out to my superiors.  I didn't get many complaints, except from bigots, and they were told to shut the hell up by my subordinates and superiors.

As for the likes of Dan Choi and Katie Miller and others who courageously stood out and stood up for their own integrity and our rights, the only resentment they may encounter when returning to serve our nation is if they turn out to be perfectly ordinary and not meet their troop's expectations of outstanding leadership.  Not bloody likely; they are the finest examples and role models our young patriots today could possibly deserve.

  2011 Gay Military Signal