Former Florida gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum isn’t the first bisexual politician in the United States. But he is certainly the most prominent Black man to come out as such, and the way he came out earlier this week — as a way of reemerging in public life following a scandal that many viewed as the likely end of his political career — could make room for more people to do so, according to LGBT advocates.
Gillum came out as bisexual Monday during his first sit-down interview since March, when police found him inebriated and unconscious in a South Beach Miami hotel room with two men. (Drugs were found at the scene, though Gillum denies he used illegal substances and was not arrested.) That incident prompted Gillum to seek treatment and generated speculation that the former Tallahassee mayor and married father of three was gay.
The scandal seemed like it could be a sad crescendo to the promising political career of a man who came within a percentage point of being Florida’s first Black governor in 2018. And it is anything but clear what his path forward as a politician may be. But it’s significant that Gillum saw coming out so publicly as valuable.
“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,” he said to talk show host Tamron Hall. “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.”
“The truth is, is that, Tamron, everyone believes the absolute worst about that day,” Gillum added. “At this stage, I don’t have anything else to have to conceal.”
That transparency — especially in politics — is uncommon and could make it a bit easier for bisexual Americans hoping to enter the political sphere, said Alphonso David, president of the Human Rights Campaign, one of the largest LGBT rights groups in America.
“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,” said David. “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.”
And David Johns, executive director of the National Black Justice Coalition, a Black LGBT civil rights organization, called Gillum’s experience coming to terms with his own sexuality relatable for many queer Black Americans.
“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,” he said. “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.”
Among the conversations that have swept the country this past summer about racism in America were discussions about homophobia within the Black community and racism within the LGBT community. Gillum’s interview showcased a Black man in the LGBT community embracing and discussing his identities and how he and those close to them are attempting to understand them better and how they shape his worldview, including his politics.
Katie Hill, who was California’s first openly bisexual person elected to Congress before conservative media outlets published nude photos suggesting an alleged affair between the lawmaker and a staffer, praised Gillum and his wife for their decision to go public with the former Tallahassee mayor’s sexuality.
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.— Katie Hill (@KatieHill4CA) September 14, 2020
Standing with you and sending love. ❤️🌈💪 https://t.co/9LNQIWv3Ay
Although the 2018 election saw a record number of LGBT elected officials seek public office, some voters still feel uncomfortable supporting queer candidates, Andrew Reynolds, author of “The Children of Harvey Milk: How LGBTQ Politicians Changed the World,” previously co-wrote for The Post.
“We found that voters still penalize candidates for being gay or lesbian,” he wrote.
Much ignorance and stigma still exist about bisexuality, said R. Jai Gillum, Andrew’s wife. And it is not uncommon for people struggling to understand and accept their sexual identity to succumb to depression and substance abuse, according to American Addiction Centers, one of the country’s largest providers of addiction services.
“So many people just don’t understand bisexuality,” R. Jai Gillum told Hall. “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.”
As some Americans look to political leaders to better reflect the diversity of the population that they represent, that will include a push to see people of varied sexual orientations — including bisexuality — in Washington and state capitals around the country. The details of Gillum’s coming out could present challenges for him among a voting population uncomfortable with backing queer politicians, but he made it clear that he doesn’t think his sexuality or past will make doing so impossible.
When asked whether he could make a return to politics one day, Gillum replied: “Donald Trump is president.”