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

January 10, 2011 |  5:00 pm

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

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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.



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