Andrew Gillum entered rehab for alcohol abuse following the March 2020 incident but has since said he's open to a political comeback after getting help

By Sean Neumann
February 19, 2021 09:46 AM
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Andrew Gillum in 2018
| Credit: Mark Wallheiser/Getty Images

It has been almost a year since former Florida political star Andrew Gillum was found inebriated in a Miami-area hotel room with an escort who had overdosed — a scandal that saw Gillum retreat from public life while he entered rehab for alcoholism.

The seedier details of that encounter fueled scrutiny about Gillum's character and judgment at the exact moment he was working on his next act after narrowly losing the 2018 governor's race.

Since then, the former Tallahassee mayor — who lost out on being Florida's governor by about 30,000 votes — has come forward to tell his side of the story, along with wife R. Jai Gillum.

They have opened up about their private struggles, their commitment to each other and about Andrew's sexuality in light of speculation about the other man in the hotel room with him.

In an emotional TV interview with Tamron Hall in September, Andrew said that he was bisexual and drew praise from advocates for his public coming out.

"So many people just don't understand bisexuality," R. Jai told Hall last year, adding that she believes "love and sexuality exist on a spectrum," and that all she cared about was "what's between us and what agreement do we make to be in a relationship with each other."

"The truth is, is that, Tamron, everyone believes the absolute worst about that day," Andrew told Hall. "At this stage, I don't have anything else to have to conceal. ... What was most hurtful was this belief that I was somehow living a lie in my marriage and in my family."

"That was the most hurtful to me because I believe we're all entitled to mistakes," he said. "And I believe we're entitled to those mistakes without having every other respectable and redeeming part of our lives invalidated."

In that interview, he didn't close the door on a possible political comeback.

"There is not a thing that has happened in my life — scandalous or not — to cause me to believe that if I have service to give an elected office as a means in order to render, that I couldn't do that," he said then. "Now, would it be hard? Absolutely. But Donald Trump [was] president."

Now a new GQ article offers a dueling account of the March 2020 incident that sidelined Andrew's once-promising career.

The Gillums initially gave an interview to the magazine in November, which formed the basis of a feature on their marriage published this month.

However, according to GQ, the couple stopped cooperating once they learned the magazine had spoken with Travis Dyson, the escort found with Andrew last March.

Dyson, whom Gillum previously described as a "friend," told GQ a contradictory story of what happened between him and Gillum. PEOPLE also spoke with Dyson this week and he reiterated his account of the incident.

Andrew Gillum did not return a call from PEOPLE seeking comment. An attorney for him did not immediately comment.

A spokesman also did not comment on GQ's reporting when reached by The Tallahassee Democrat. GQ said he and his wife "declined to respond on the record to Dyson's version of events."

Andrew Gillum in March 2019
| Credit: Saul Martinez/Getty Images

Dyson, then a 30-year-old nurse and escort, told GQ he met Gillum on a dating app about a week or two prior to the incident in March 2020. (Gillum said they'd known each other for a few months.)

According to GQ, Dyson said that he and Gillum had met "multiple times for paid sexual encounters" in the week or two between their first meeting and the hotel incident.

Dyson also told GQ the two men had taken "G," a club drug also called "liquid ecstasy," which can knock a person out if mixed with alcohol, according to the American Addiction Centers.

Dyson claimed that on multiple occasions including that night, he and Gillum consumed drugs such as "G." Gillum previously told Hall speculation he had taken drugs was "untrue."

Dyson told PEOPLE that the incident last year was the third time he and Gillum met within about a week. "I didn't know anything about him," Dyson says of Gillum. "I only knew that he had a wife and kids, because that's all he told me."

Dyson, who says he had to withdraw from nursing school about a week after the incident and now sells adult content of himself on OnlyFans, claims that on that night in the hotel they both took "G" and other drugs that he insists Gillum provided from the night before.

Dyson believes Gillum passed out after mixing that drug with alcohol.

Police at the scene — who arrived when a third man called 911 — said they found three bags of what they suspected to be crystal meth on the bed and on the floor of the hotel room.

Officers described Gillum as "under the influence of an unknown substance" and "unable to communicate due to his inebriated state." But Gillum insisted in a statement to the press that he had only had too much to drink — and "never used methamphetamines."

Speaking with GQ, Gillum suggested he'd initially thought he might have been unwittingly drugged as part of a setup.

"He [Dyson] 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," he told GQ. "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."

"Me being and putting myself in this situation to even communicate with another adult at that level was a mistake on my part," Gillum told GQ. "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."

He said, "The [not faithful] 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."

Dyson maintains Gillum instigated their relationship: "He sought me out [on the app]. He hit me up first."

Authorities told PEOPLE last March that the incident was not being treated as a criminal matter and Gillum was not charged with any crime.

Photos from the scene at the hotel circulated on the internet, including one of Gillum unconscious "on the floor ... literally lying in my own vomit," as he told Hall last year.

"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?' " Gillum told GQ. "And you start to feel like one of those people who don't have power, which is not a cool place."

Dyson admitted to GQ that he took some photos and videos during the incident "but said he took them in order to be able to later show Andrew what had happened."

He later accidentally overdosed that night as well after, he says, he had some of Gillum's drink.

Dyson denies leaking the images and suspects it was the police, because the leaked images appear to be photos taken of photos on another phone.

He maintained to GQ he was trying to take care of Gillum before becoming incapacitated himself. He tells PEOPLE that for months he avoided the media and public attention at the request of Gillum's attorney; he also says he denied Gillum's offer to help pay the hospital and hotel bills but then accepted.

Dyson says he was unaware of the Gillums' TV interview with Tamron Hall before it aired in September and was caught off guard.

"I looked out for someone's best interest above mine and that is why I'm in this whole situation," he says. "If he would've been honest [about who he was] from the get go, this probably wouldn't have happened."

Had Dyson realized who Gillum was when they met, he insists, "I would've been like, 'Okay, I need to be extra careful and be extra prudent and not let anything happen and then nothing would've happened."

From left: Andrew Gillum in 2018 with his wife R. Jai Gillum
| Credit: Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty

Hall, who spoke with the Gillums in their first on-camera interview about the incident, told PEOPLE last year that she felt the need to do the interview on the politician's terms to ensure the couple felt comfortable going on the record.

Hall said then that it took "many weeks" to set up the emotional interview on The Tamron Hall Show, during which R. Jai said she and her husband "never planned to talk" about the incident.

Hall and a small team of producers flew to Florida "in the dark of night, at 4 in the morning" to do the interview, she said, because they didn't want to raise speculation with news outlets and shake the Gillums' confidence.

During the interview, Andrew revealed for the first time that he is bisexual. R. Jai — who Hall described as "tough as nails" after the interview — also said she didn't want that one fact to be defining.

"I don't think it's anyone's business," she said. "I don't think it's fair to people who are not heterosexual or not assumed heterosexual, they should ever have to say or disclose what they are because of how judgmental people are."

R. Jai, who has been married to Andrew since 2009, added then she believed her husband was experiencing depression after his narrow loss to DeSantis and that he made a "reckless" decision "because he needed to talk to somebody."

Speaking with GQ, she described how she and her husband overcame last year's scandal through complete candor even though she initially had decided to end things. The proximity enforced by the pandemic helped.

"As soon as he came back [from rehab], I just realized … I don't want to scare my kids," R. Jai told GQ. "Their dad has been gone for 40-something days, and I can't just leave. And then it just became 'We can be civil and be friends and figure this out.' And then it became a 'For now, I want to fight for my marriage and so does he, so let's just do that.' "

Andrew has since opened up about his decision to go to rehab for alcoholism — prompted by his wife, according to GQ. "If you want a fighting chance at your family, you've got to get help," she told him, the magazine reported.

"He goes to therapy on his own, I go to therapy on my own and we've had group therapy, couples counseling," R. Jai told the magazine. "And it is, I think for us, deep and intimate conversations that probably would have once been extremely painful and hard to do."

Andrew told GQ that many others reached out to help as well, including former President Bill Clinton, CNN's Van Jones and Tyler Perry.

"I had totally underestimated the impact that losing the race for governor had had on my life and on the way those impacts started to show up in every aspect of my life," Andrew said last summer, in an Instagram video update about his treatment.

The former politician said then that the March 2020 incident "caused great embarrassment and lots of rumors — some false, some true," and that the "shame" he felt was "tearing me up."

"I needed real help to try to unpack that," he said.

If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction, please contact the SAMHSA substance abuse helpline at 1-800-662-HELP.