“Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” was no place for gay people … so says one of the stars.
Francois Clemmons, who played Officer Clemmons from 1968 – 1995, says in his new memoir, Fred Rogers got wind of the fact Clemmons was gay, pulled him aside and said, “Franc, you have talents and gifts that set you apart and above the crowd. Someone has informed us that you were seen at the local gay bar downtown. Now, I want you to know, Franc, that if you’re gay, it doesn’t matter to me at all.”
And, then the other shoe dropped … “Whatever you say and do is fine with me, but if you’re going to be on the show as an important member of the ‘Neighborhood,’ you can’t be out as gay.”
Clemmons told People Rogers told him secrecy was the only way … “You must do this Francois … because it threatens my dream,” adding, “I was destroyed. The man who was killing me had also saved me. He was my executioner and deliverer. But, at the same time, I knew that he would know how to comfort me.”
According to Clemmons, whose memoir is titled, “Officer Clemmons,” Rogers also told him the audience didn’t care who he was sleeping with … “especially if it’s a man.”
And, there’s more … according to Clemmons, Rogers urged him to marry a woman, and he obliged. Clemmons married La-Tanya Mae Sheridan. They divorced in 1974 and later Clemmons came out.
He says he forgives the legendary TV host … “Lord have mercy, yes. I forgive him. More than that, I understand. I relied on the fact that this was his dream. He had worked so hard for it. I knew Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood was his whole life.”