TM NOTE: Joyce Arnold brings activist commentary from the LGBT community.
You probably know who Daniel Hernandez is — the college student, interning with Rep. Giffords, who was named a hero for his actions at the Tucson shooting. Did you also know he’s an “out” gay man, and was invited to be a guest of First Lady Michelle Obama at the State of the Union on Tuesday night?
It’s become the norm that every SOTU has a moment when one or more individuals receive the president’s special focus. One of those this year was small business owner Brandon Fisher who devised and carried out “Plan B,” which ultimately saved the 33 Chilean miners who were trapped. President Obama told the story. And it was perfectly appropriate that Mr. Fisher’s wife was seated with him. It seemed completely spontaneous and natural for him to reach over and take his wife’s hand, totally understandable that she was clearly very proud of him.
I wonder, though, what would have happened if it had been a gay man, and his partner, his spouse had been seated next to him? What if Daniel Hernandez, the “out gay” and Hispanic young man, had a partner, or a boyfriend? What if he reached over and took his partner’s hand?
Mr. Hernandez, it was widely reported in the LGBT media, would be a guest of Michelle Obama’s at the SOTU, as it was also widely reported very soon after the Tucson shooting that he is an “out” gay man. Or at least it was in the LGBT world. It was speculative, of course, to guess this would mean Mr. Hernandez would be an individual the president would point to during the SOTU, as he had during his Tucson speech, calling him a hero. “Cameras scanning the gallery showed Hernandez early during the broadcast of the State of the Union. But Hernandez appeared to be standing near the back of the gallery, not seated near First Lady Michelle Obama, as expected,” wrote Lisa Keen, via DallasVoice.
I have no reason to think Daniel Hernandez was anything but as honored and pleased to be invited (he took his father) as he sounded in interviews before the SOTU. I never saw that he made any comments about his expectations regarding Obama’s focus. He, and Mr. Fisher, both deserve the recognition they received. I’m thinking more broadly now, about how the ongoing need for recognition of LGBT’s, about the importance of the “out” factor. Knowing you know someone who is lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender does make a difference. Still.
President Obama did, of course, provide direct recognition of gay and lesbian servicemembers, in his remarks about DADT. That is an obviously significant “out” moment. But when it comes to things like a focus on Mr. Hernandez, and for that matter, Mr. Fisher, things seem a bit more complicated.
Mr. Fisher was seated next to his wife. No one had to preface his name with “out heterosexual.” And the fact is, when Mr. Obama did focus on Daniel Hernandez, in the Tucson speech, he didn’t say “out gay man.” He didn’t mention Daniel’s sexual orientation at all. Should he?
Sexual orientation usually isn’t a part of a story (not directly), unless it isn’t heterosexual, and is somehow related to “gay issues.” Most media outlets reporting about Hernandez must have known, however, he’s gay. And while I certainly could have missed it, I didn’t see it mentioned in MSM reporting I did read. Should it have been?
Of course Queer media did focus on it. Daniel provides yet another individual face from our communities. But the gay identity question in MSM reporting is raised — when is it appropriate, and relevant? On one hand, sexual orientation, gender, marital status, nor the fact that he is Hispanic, has anything to do with what Daniel did. On the other hand (probably the left one), it does matter, because, it is, in fact, a part of who he is; and because it “puts a face” on “the gays.” It’s the whole “coming out” thing, the “more people know us,” the more they realize how off the misinformation and distortions are.
The argument is frequently made along the lines of “Heterosexuals don’t talk about being heterosexual all the time. Why do the homosexuals?” To which the frequently made response is, “Heterosexuals don’t have to talk about it. It’s presumed.” Plus, there are those photos of the opposite gendered spouse on the desk, or on your phone; the conversations around the water bottle dispenser about weekend plans with the “husband,” the “wife.” The fact is, even with all the progress made, being “out” really is still very important, and not always safe. And it requires the faces of real people.
Some very well intentioned folks tell me, regarding sexual orientation, “nobody cares anymore.” While things have certainly improved, it simply isn’t accurate, to say that “nobody cares.” I think that the “caring” or “not caring” is at least somewhat related to what they know, or think they know, about sexual orientation. Knowing Daniel Hernandez is gay doesn’t change anything about his actions. Knowing Brandon Fisher is heterosexual doesn’t change anything about his actions. But the latter was safely assumed. That can’t be said about the first. Not yet. We need less labeling and more “facing” of the gay, the lesbian, the bisexual, the transgender.
The DADT story continues to unfold, specifically in terms of how the policy is still being applied, and the plans being made to implement the repeal, contrast with the repeal itself. I have a diary up. Check out John Aravosis and Joe Sudbay at GayAmerica for updates, and to sign a letter addressed to Defense Secretary Gates.