It was shocking news when Andrew Gillum, the former Tallahassee mayor who had come within half a percentage point of becoming the first Black governor in the state’s history, had been involved in an incident in a hotel room with a male escort who had overdosed on meth. Police reports said Gillum was too inebriated to speak; soon after photos were released of the politician laying naked on the floor in a pool of his own vomit.
The story was made all the more salacious due to the fact that Gillum was supposedly a heterosexual man who had been married to his wife, R. Jai Howard for over a decade and with whom he has three children. Many understandably jumped to conclusions and assumed that Gillum, like other famous politicians before him, was a hypocrite who had lied to everyone, including his own spouse, and was finally being exposed for the liar he was.
The more details and information we have learned, however, the more nuanced and complicated the reality has proven to be. Gillum and Howard did a brutally honest, very powerful interview with Tamron Hall earlier this week and Gillum said he went rehab to deal with alcohol addiction right after the Miami incident and that drug tests done right before entering treatment showed that he had not been on any drugs during that time.
He also disclosed that he identifies as bisexual and had been forthright with his wife about that fact for some time, even before they married.
It’s important to note that Gillum (unlike for instance Aaron Schock who consistently voted against LGBTQ rights while he was a closeted member of Congress) has always been a staunch and vocal supporter of marriage equality and the LGBTQ community.
In the interview, you could see how much the couple loves each other, how much they are on the same page, and ready to move forward in their lives with honesty, poise, and grace.
He spoke of how difficult it was for him to handle his razor-thin gubernatorial defeat in 2018 and how much it crushed his spirit, which led him to turn to alcohol. Losing a race of that magnitude so publicly must weigh on your shoulders in a massive way that you perhaps don’t expect or anticipate before it actually happens.
Gillum said he wasn’t sure if running for office was in the future but that if it was, he believed he could overcome the scandal and ensuing controversy of what took place earlier this year.
His bisexuality should have no bearing on his prospects for future office; we need more LGBTQ people, particularly those who are bisexual and transgender, to go into electoral politics. It also is significant that he is not only a bisexual man but a bisexual African-American man; we need more diversity and different kinds of voices in public life.
Andrew Gillum can be a uniquely powerful and effective voice if he chooses that path and can help lift people up who have been through similar experiences. It may be a long road ahead for him, but ultimately, even in the face of tragedy and difficulty, it can be a rewarding and meaningful one.