The Queerty Interview

Out candidate Michael Aycox on his historic campaign and that time his dad downloaded Grindr

Michael Aycox is making history as the first openly gay candidate ever to run in a Mississippi congressional race. He’s currently one of two Democrats on the ballot in the June 5 primary for Mississippi’s 3rd congressional district seat.

The 30-year-old Navy veteran lives in Newton, Mississippi with his husband, Mario, who is currently serving in the Florida Air National Guard, along with their dog, Sasha.

Queerty spoke with Aycox about his historic campaign, what it’s like being an openly gay candidate in a deeply red state, and about that time his dad downloaded Grindr (awkward!). Check out what he had to say…

You initially said that you’re not campaigning as a “gay candidate”. What did you mean by that?

When we started this race I made it clear that I did not want to be known as the “gay candidate,” but I would settle for being the candidate that is gay. The difference between the two is one defines me by my orientation while the other identifies my orientation. I was not hiding in the closet, although my opponent accused me of this, I just simply believed in integrating–integrating with society as a gay man and [hoping that] eventually acceptance would come. After having numerous people approach me, however, my eyes were opened to the fact that the struggle to find one’s identity is still a big deal. One event in particular changed my own mind and inspired me to address the whispers concerning my sexuality.

You’re talking about the Human Rights Campaign Derby Day.

Yes. While attending the Human Rights Campaign Derby Day, I was introduced to hundreds of members of the LGBTQ community. Each expressed their love and appreciation for my “courage.” To me, this is not courageous. My campaign is for a better tomorrow; to move Mississippi a new direction, to create opportunity, and to remember those who have been forgotten. Courage is the kid who comes out knowing he will be ostracized and rejected by their family. Courage is the Pride organizers in Starkville who fought a city to celebrate equality. Courage is doing something knowing you will receive hate. As I left this event, I realized that my “integration” idea was failing; I had to come out.

Even though you only recently came out publicly, you’ve been out to your family since you were 20. What was that experience like?

My family suspected it. I was just different and never really had a girlfriend. It was difficult for them at first, but I was blessed. My family made it clear that they may or may not agree with my “lifestyle,” but that they would always love me.

My dad was funny though. Before I had told him, his suspicions were high, because of rumors and what not. In an attempt to find out for himself he downloaded Grindr. Luckily for him, I told him before he reached a point of no return.

You and your husband Mario were married in 2013. How does he feel about you being Mississippi’s first openly gay candidate for a congressional seat?

Mario has been incredibly supportive. He is currently preparing to deploy; in an attempt to preserve the integrity of his unit’s mission and his safety we have attempted to keep him out of the spotlight. However, Mario has attended a few events and loved every minute of it.

What have been some of the surprises of campaigning as an openly gay candidate in a deeply red state?

Contrary to popular belief, the Republican candidates have been tremendously friendly and supportive of Mario and myself. Each one has greeted us, generally with a hug, and for some a firm handshake. Our opposition arose from Day 1 within the Democratic Party, ironically. We expected dissention, discrimination, and disdain from the Republican counterparts, but not the Democrats.

Initially, before I filed, I was instructed not to by the state Democratic Chair, Bobby Moake. He explained the party had someone else in mind to run, my opponent, and he would not run unless he was unopposed. I explained my military service, my police background, and detailed my marital status. For nearly a month he would not return my calls or messages, wanting me to go away. In a final conversation, Mr. Moake, when he could not get me to concede, shouted “we will not have a gay congressman in Mississippi.”

How did you respond to this?

His comment was surprising but enlightening. Our enemies surrounded us entirely, it seemed. Mr. Moake’s response not only deeply affected us during our “testing the waters” phase, but it also, in turn, has had far-reaching ramifications in drastically affecting our campaign’s ability to find and secure financial support. While Moake is the Mississippi Democratic party chair, he most definitely does not represent many within the incredible party leadership in this state. Throughout this campaign, the challenges and surprises have kept me alert and served as reminders of the importance of why I’m running for this office.

What do you think is the greatest misconception people outside of your state have about Mississippi and its treatment, specifically, of LGBTQ people?

I think that the single biggest misconception about Mississippians is that we aren’t moving forward. But, we are, albeit slowly. Still, there is much to be done. Nationally, as of late, Mississippian’s voice has been described as hate-filled, divisive, and segregationist. Our flag possesses the Confederate battle emblem and to this day, it alienates an entire portion of the population. This voice commands a lot of attention, but it doesn’t speak for all of us.

Mississippians are a welcoming, hospitable, and kind people; however, Mississippians are proud of their “rebellious streak.” This streak has been felt from the average citizen all the way to the legislative body and in return, we have become last in anything of importance because we are becoming too narrow-minded. It is time for us to broaden our horizons. It is imperative that Mississippi break from this “rebellious streak.” It is time to refocus our priorities.

There is no question Mississippi has some incredible people and many that want to move Mississippi forward, to new heights. Our objective is to inspire Mississippians to change the state’s image. To stomp out racism, homophobia, bigotry, and hate. There is a new face of politics rising in the nation; Mississippi is not behind on that playing field.

Is there anything you would like to add?

We have faced numerous problems throughout the race as alluded to above. We were told that to win this race we needed three million dollars, and we are nowhere close to that number. I believe this was an attempt to be discouraging to our campaign, I believe it was an attempt to steal our joy; but it did not. We have been told it was the objective of the party leadership to keep us off stage—to give us media blackout, to suppress our message, because we are not the party pick. But, that has not stopped our fight, our message, or our resolve. When this interview publishes there will be approximately ten days remaining in the primaries and we are still fighting, busy planning for the long haul. We plan on continuing to make history! If Mississippi chooses me through the primaries, the voice of the Mississippi people will bring about hope for the thousands of LGBTQ in our communities.

Related: This Navy vet is making history as Mississippi’s first openly gay candidate in a congressional race