Progress in any society is never easy, and no one understands that better than public servants hoping to change the status quo once elected.
Arizona State Representative Daniel Hernandez has dedicated his life to fighting the status quo and genuinely believes that a fairer, safer, and more inclusive America is on the horizon. Elected to the Arizona House of Representatives in 2016 at age 25, his passion and determination represents a new era of politics in our country – one where millennial LGBTQ leaders seek to move us past division and acrimony.
While Rep. Hernandez has spent the better part of a decade – as a student advocate and now as an elected official – pressing elected officials on a variety of issues, one moment in his career stands out. In January 2011, as an intern for U.S. Representative Gabby Giffords, he was checking in guests at the Congresswoman’s “Congress on Your Corner” event when the unthinkable happened. A gunman shot Congresswoman Giffords and killed six others. Since that day, Rep. Hernandez has been a vocal advocate for gun safety and student activism around gun violence.
Victory Institute caught up with Rep. Hernandez in Phoenix during Victory’s last LGBTQ Leadership Summit of the year. Here is what Rep. Hernandez had to say:
Rep. Hernandez on Gun Violence in the United States:
“Gun violence is something that disproportionately impacts communities of color and marginalized communities. Looking at what happened in Orlando with Pulse – That was one of the largest terrorist attacks we’ve ever had, it was one of the largest mass shootings we ever had, until Las Vegas, that specifically targeted the LGBTQ community, particularly LGBTQ people of color. In places like Arizona, people of color are disproportionately affected. 49% of gun deaths in Arizona are Latinos, and we only represent 36% of the population. African Americans are about 14% of gun deaths in Arizona, and they only make up 5% of the population. This is an issue that cuts across many communities.”
Rep. Hernandez on the National Rifle Association:
“The problem has been this – We have in the National Rifle Association a very strong lobby that has had forty-five years to convince people, especially elected officials, that they shouldn’t do anything about gun violence or else risk being driven out of office. So, for me, what I thought was amazing about the March for our Lives is that so many young people who’ve never been a part of the political process and are not jaded said, “Why not? Why can’t we take the NRA head on and tell them that they’re wrong?”
Rep. Hernandez on Student Activism & Gun Violence:
“These kids are fearless, and they’re not willing to accept the status quo. Here is a very vocal and very passionate group of young people literally saying: ‘We’re marching for our lives because no one else is standing up to do the right thing.’ It’s very important and promising. It’s easy to be cynical and think nothing is going to change, but because we have so many young people, many of whom have never been a part of the political process and will become voters, it’s going to light a fire under so many Americans. This is a movement that is growing.”
Rep. Hernandez on the Next Generation of Leaders:
“The promising aspect of the next generation is that they’re going to outlive most of the decision-makers. When we look at the landscape in Congress and in state legislatures across the country, young people are going to be the next state legislators and members of Congress very soon. Obviously, if our current leaders don’t do what is asked of them, it is just be a matter of time before we have a new generation of people in office.”
Rep. Hernandez’ Advice to Legislators
“This is my ninth legislative session. I’ve been coming to the state legislature since I was 18 to advocate and lobby for some of the most difficult issues, whether it is reproductive rights, LGBT rights, gun violence prevention laws, immigration or education. I never shy away from easy topics. I’ve been able to be successful on some of these issues because I spend a lot of my time trying to build relationships and find common ground. For example, my first bill to ever pass the House was a bill I worked on with Republicans on expand protections for victims of sexual assault. We were able to pass unanimously in the House. For me, that’s a big win because it didn’t happen by accident. When it came time for a vote, I knew I’d done enough to get my colleagues on board.”
Rep. Hernandez on Running for Office:
“If you come from a community that is not being represented, you’re told to wait your turn, you’re not the right fit. And I think those are some of the worst pieces of advice you can give people. Because even if you are not well-positioned to win on paper, if you work hard and you’re passionate, that will carry over and people will understand what you’re trying to accomplish.”
“The advice I give to people thinking about running is: Just do it! Very rarely do people who are LGBTQ, or come from a community of color, or young people get told, “You should run.” It’s usually the opposite. Even if you don’t win, you get to draw attention to things that are important to you and that is just as valuable as having someone in office.”
Representative Hernandez is one of 582 LGBTQ elected officials currently serving in the U.S. To see all of them, please visit Victory Institute’s Out for America map!