In March 2020, on Friday the 13th, Gillum, now 40, was found in a heavily intoxicated state at the Mondrian hotel in Miami. Also present was an unconscious Travis Dyson, 30, a registered nurse who allegedly also worked as an escort. A third man, Aldo Mejias, 56, who rented the room, called the police after finding Andrew Gillum vomiting and Dyson struggling to stay conscious. Police found methamphetamine baggies in the room. Dyson was taken to Mount Sinai Medical Center, and both he and Gillum have since recovered. No arrests were made.
The coronavirus pandemic has overtaken the initial public interest in the Gillum story, but the scandal’s far-reaching impact is just beginning to unfold. Andrew Gillum, a former mayor of Tallahassee, husband, and father of three, may have effectively squandered his political future. Though more details are sure to come, this unfortunate story already smells like familial heartbreak and political sabotage – self-inflicted or otherwise. Considering the implications of the reports, I’d be remiss not to acknowledge the challenges that are frequently and sometimes uniquely attached to black masculinity.
Andrew Gillum, born in Miami and raised in Gainesville, Florida, is a true son of the Sunshine State. A child of blue-collar workers, Andrew had a humble, middle-class upbringing. Gillum was a star pupil throughout high school and college. He would go on to serve as president of student government while majoring in Political Science at Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University (FAMU), a historically black university. His early success foreshadowed his political career: Mr. America, Mr. Black America.
At age 23, before graduating college, he would be elected to the Tallahassee City Commission. In many ways, Andrew Gillum has displayed black excellence throughout his life. In 2009, Gillum would marry his longtime girlfriend, R. Jai Howard (pronounced Ar-Jay). The couple met at FAMU and like her husband, R. Jai also served in student body leadership.
As political careers go, Andrew Gillum’s record was relatively clean. Until recently, 2018’s Hamilton-gate was perhaps the biggest scandal of his career. The Hamilton ticket controversy gained wider attention during his 2018 gubernatorial campaign. Hamilton-gate involved Gillum’s alleged acceptance of tickets from lobbyists in 2016 to see Hamilton on Broadway in New York City. Gillum denied the allegations but received a $5,000 from the Florida Commission on Ethics on charges of failing to report lobbyist gifts.
Hamilton-gate, by comparison to Gillum’s current scandal, is quite tame. To the public, Andrew Gillum was still a political star, though there were grumblings about his sexuality. His relationship with his former mayoral campaign treasurer (2014) and longtime friend Adam Corey had historically drawn some whispered scrutiny. However, these rumors mainly lived on lesser-known corners of the internet.
Interestingly, Adam Corey was friends with the lobbyist – actually an undercover FBI agent – who gave the Hamilton tickets to Gillum. Corey’s friendship with Gillum, which began in college, waned as the two cut ties around Hamilton-gate.
Fast-forward to March 2020: conservative commentator Candace Owens somehow obtains the Gillum police report containing each party’s contact information (Gillum, Dyson, Mejias) and releases it on Twitter. Democrat Andrew Gillum was involved in a crystal meth overdose incident last night in a Miami hotel. Orgy suspected, but unconfirmed.
The obvious suspicion is that at the very least, Andrew Gillum participates in same-gender sexual relationships. Pictures of Gillum’s naked body quickly surfaced online. In the leaked photos, an individual with bare-feet can be seen standing over Gillum’s nude, unconscious body. According to reports, Gillum was too inebriated to communicate with police upon their arrival.
Mejias, the third man in the hotel room, claims Dyson opened the door for him and then collapsed, as Gillum threw up in the bathroom. From Mejias’s account, his own involvement with Andrew Gillum and Travis Dyson remains unclear, though he (Mejias) paid for the hotel room. Andrew Gillum issued a statement shortly after the incident, citing struggles with alcoholism.
“I was in Miami last night for a wedding celebration when first responders were called to assist one of my friends. I want to be clear that I have never used methamphetamines. I apologize to the people of Florida for the distraction this has caused our movement. Since my race for governor ended, I fell into a depression that has led to alcohol abuse. I witnessed my father suffer from alcoholism and I know the damaging effects it can have when untreated. I had too much to drink. I know that alcoholism is often a symptom of deeper struggles,” Gillum stated.
Some reports confirm Gillum was indeed supposed to officiate a Miami wedding, but according to wedding attendees, he was a no-show. So far, details of this story lead to obvious pain and disappointment for the Gillum family, his supporters, and associates, but also to more questions.
Who took the photos of Andrew Gillum’s nude and unconscious body? Why were there no leaked photos of Dyson? Who is Mejias, and what was his involvement with Gillum and Dyson? Why did Mejias pay for the hotel room? Who leaked the police report?
Sex seems to be the Achilles heel for many politicians, for more reasons than primal urge alone. Moreover, the combination of gay party life with meth is becoming an unfortunate regularity. For many queer men and queer black men, in particular, a successful career as a same-gender-loving individual had never been a practical option – there were no models of that.
Sex parties and hard drugs are the de facto mecca for many men struggling to live out another narrative. If Andrew Gillum is queer (bisexual or gay in this case), it also juxtaposes the rigidity of black male sexuality to white male sexuality. Today, there are openly gay white politicians (Pete Buttigieg). Would Gillum have had the same support as an openly queer black man in politics?
In 2020, despite the growing media acceptance, when it comes to queerness in day-to-day life, America still leans conservative – even more so in black communities. For Andrew Gillum, this likely meant that whatever same-sex feelings he may have experienced had to be buried under his accomplishments, his heterosexual marriage, his looks, and overall image: Mr. Black America, respectable HBCU grad.
Today, Travis Dyson’s nursing license in Florida is under a “voluntary withdrawal” status. Much of Aldo Mejias’s background and current whereabouts remain unknown. Andrew Gillum has withdrawn from political life.
Gillum’s political future is indefinitely dormant, but his future as a public figure may be bright. In time, perhaps this scandal could be an opportunity for Gillum to reemerge as a champion for the expansion and redefinition of black masculinity.
Roderick Thomas is an NYC-based writer and filmmaker (Instagram: @Hippiebyaccident; email: firstname.lastname@example.org).