In a lengthy feature by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Wesley Lowery for GQ Magazine, Andrew and his wife R. Jai Gillum explained the events that led up to what happened in Miami in March 2020 and his frustration with how the story was portrayed by news outlets.
Andrew, who came out as bisexual six months after the scandal erupted, admitted that the events of March 12 were entirely his fault and he apologized both for embarrassing his wife and reinforcing rampant negative stereotypes within the Black community about bisexual men. He discussed his evolution in understanding the meaning of bisexuality.
Andrew explained that he knew from an early age that he was attracted to boys and girls but did not feel comfortable expressing it in the conservative southern culture he was raised in.
“As I understood it, it was basically gay men who were trying to pass in a heterosexual relationship when that wasn’t really what they were attracted to. I still think it’s very much misunderstood within the Black community, that people don’t really accept that there is bisexuality as an identity,” Andrew said.
He told Lowery that he considered publicly coming out as bisexual in 2014 when he was preparing to run for mayor of Tallahassee, Florida, as he thought news outlets would eventually find the men he had dated in the past. But his political advisers as well as his wife told him not to.
“I had a political adviser whom I’d spoken to who was not just ‘No,’ but like, ‘Hell no!’ And Jai said no too,” Andrew said.
R. Jai said that before the two got married, he explained his sexuality and reassured her that it was simply an aspect of his life.
“I had a lot of questions, some of which he could answer, some of which he couldn’t. But I guess maybe it was that confidence in me really believing what he had to say about me and us [that] made it better… It made me want to at least say, ‘Okay, let’s see. Let’s figure this thing out,’” she said.
“So now I’m like, ‘We’re just a couple dealing with the same things that other people deal with.’ There is nothing different,” she added.
Andrew's sexuality came into focus last year when photos began circulating of him unconscious and naked in a hotel room with two other men. The story dominated headlines for hours but was eventually drowned out that same day when the U.S. government officially declared the coronavirus pandemic a national emergency.
A few months later, he came out as bisexual in an interview with television host Tamron Hall.
“To be very honest with you, when you didn’t ask the question, you put it out there, is whether or not I identify as gay. And the answer is, I don’t identify as gay, but I do identify as bisexual. And that is something that I have never shared publicly before,” Andrew told Hall.
“The truth is, is that, Tamron, everyone believes the absolute worst about that day. At this stage, I don’t have anything else to have to conceal,” he added.
“So many people just don’t understand bisexuality. Bisexuality is just something different. I just believe that love and sexuality exist on a spectrum. All I care about is what’s between us and what agreement we make,” R. Jai told Hall.
Lowery noted the long history of bisexual men being derisively criticized with the term "on the down-low" and having to face the culture-wide suspicion that Black men who are attracted to both sexes are simply "gay men in disguise."
Lowery added that the misconceptions around bisexuality are a often vicious circle. The negative perceptions of bisexual men force them to hide their identity, then contributing to the other stereotype of bisexual men as "deceitful" or untruthful about their sexuality.
“In coming out as bisexual — and coming out publicly — Andrew Gillum has perhaps made it easier for other Black, bi-plus people to come out themselves. Coming out is a deeply personal decision and is one that looks different for each individual. But regardless of the circumstances, anyone who comes out deserves respect and openness,” David said.
Despite his admitted transgressions to his wife and family, Andrew said he believes he was mistreated both by the men who outed him with the salacious photos they took and shared as well as the media outlets that published the image.
“All these images that I am not aware of, that I’m not conscious of, that I didn’t give consent to, that I did not participate in…To see what these things have been done around you without your knowledge or consent. And then at that point, you start to wonder, ‘What all happened? How did I get to this?’” Andrew told GQ.
“And you start to feel like one of those people who don’t have power, which is not a cool place. Because even in bad decision-making, I want to know that I have the power, the choice,” he added.
Andrew is referencing the naked photos of himself in a Miami hotel room bathroom that was shared widely by conservative social media star Candace Owens and other Republican news outlets. Owens herself faced controversy after she tweeted out the police report from the night showing that Andrew was found unconscious in the room with two other men, one of whom is a male sex worker.
In 2016, Andrew lost Florida's gubernatorial race to current governor Ron DeSantis by about 32,000 votes. He told Lowery that he fell into a deep depression and began drinking heavily. His father died a year later, causing him to drink even more.
His wife had become exasperated with his heavy drinking and after her pleas for therapy fell on deaf ears, she began to make plans to divorce him.
“I really can’t say enough how much the rift was between us. I was done asking you to come to therapy with me. I had given up on you; you had given up on me. I think I had convinced myself ‘He needs help, I cannot help him, and he refuses to go get help. I’m out.’ And what does that look like? How do we make this amicable for our children? Because this is not working for me,” R. Jai told Andrew on Hall's show.
Andrew said by March 12 he was in a full alcoholic spiral, drinking heavily throughout each day. He went to Miami Beach with his wife that day to officiate a wedding but said he got to the city early and began to drink.
According to Andrew's version of events, he met up with the 30-year-old nurse and sex worker Travis Dyson, and they got a hotel room in South Beach.
“He offers me something to drink… I’m not really sure, like, what it is and what’s in it because I’m already kind of [drunk]… The last memory that I have is sitting up drinking. Because I didn’t take a drug test until two or three days later, I don’t know if there was something in my drink. But all I know is, I’m knocked out. At the point that I come back present, it’s like 11 at night and I’m in the bathroom. I don’t have any clothes on. I have no idea why. And I’m there with like five, six police officers,” Andrew told GQ, adding that he still thinks it was a "set up."
“Me being and putting myself in this situation to even communicate with another adult at that level was a mistake on my part. I’m an adult, and I know that you don’t put yourself in certain situations. And I still made choices to put myself in that,” Andrew added.
“The non-fidelis [unfaithful] part was I put myself in a situation where anything could have happened, including something that could have betrayed or would have betrayed my vows. And that’s the part that I wanted to own outright. Because I knew that much. Given the state that I was in, I knew that much was possible,” he explained.
He disputed some of the other allegations that came out about the night, but Lowery managed to track down Dyson, who gave a much different version of events. Dyson said the two met on relationship app Grindr about a week before March 12 and had been hooking up repeatedly. Dyson told Lowery the two often used drugs during their paid encounters.
Dyson also admitted to taking the highly publicized naked photos of Andrew but denied being the one who shared them with Owens and Proud Boys leader Enrique Tarrio, who also confirmed that he did not get the photos from Dyson.
Surprisingly, Andrew and his wife refused to speak with Lowery again after he interviewed Dyson and they canceled their interviews. Andrew has since spent months in rehab, as Blavity previously reported.
The story notes that Andrew is the most high profile politician in the country to ever come out as bisexual and Lowery compared his case to that of former California politician Katie Hill, who was similarly outed as bisexual in the middle of a scandal.
“Andrew and I would probably be the first test cases,” Hill told Lowery, noting that the two have actually become close due to the similarities of what they faced.
“I like to think that it’s possible,” Hill said when asked whether voters would be ok supporting bisexual politicians.
I’m so proud of @AndrewGillum and honored to call him a friend. He and R. Jai’s bravery and strength will be meaningful for so many.
Standing with you and sending love. ❤️???????? https://t.co/9LNQIWv3Ay
— Katie Hill (@KatieHill4CA) September 14, 2020
A study from the LGBTQ Victory Institute last year found that there was an emerging wave of LGBTQ+ candidates running and winning positions across state and federal governments, as Blavity previously reported.
According to the report, there are 843 known openly LGBTQ+ elected officials in the United States, and there has been a 71% increase in openly queer elected officials since 2019.
"While LGBTQ people are running for office in historic numbers, we remain severely underrepresented at every level of government – and that must change. We know that when LGBTQ people are in elected office and in the halls of power, they change the hearts and minds of their colleagues and it leads to more inclusive legislation," said Annise Parker, president and CEO of the Victory Institute and the former mayor of Houston.
The number of bisexual elected officials has grown by 53% and Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema took office in 2019 as the first openly bisexual person and the second openly LGBTQ+ person elected to the U.S. Senate.
David Johns, executive director of the National Black Justice Coalition, said in an interview with The Washington Post that Andrew's reveal was something many bisexual people can identify with.
“Black members of the LGBTQ+ community across the country watched Andrew Gillum’s interview with Tamron Hall today with empathy and love, as so many of us can relate to the complex issues and feelings he conveyed. When we are forced by harmful societal expectations to operate in black and white, with no room to express the many gray areas of ourselves that make us who we are, we get hurt,” Johns said.