AUGUST 13, 2018: An activist in DC holds a protest sign about Mr. Rogers at the Unite the Right 2 counter protestPhoto: Shutterstock
Francois Clemmons, the actor who played Officer Clemmons on the long-running children’s show Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, says in a new book that he was forced into the closet if he wanted to keep his job.
Fred Rogers, the beloved actor and minister behind the show, was known for his gentle kindness, but when he discovered Clemmons is gay, Rogers chose his career over his friend.
Related: Mr. Rogers was bisexual according to his friends
Clemmons says he met Rogers at church and quickly became a father figure and mentor to the young Clemmons. When Rogers called him into a meeting, Clemmons wasn’t expecting what happened next.
“Someone has informed us that you were seen at the local gay bar downtown,” he says Rogers told him. “Now, I want you to know, Franc, that if you’re gay, it doesn’t matter to me at all. 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.”
“You must do this, Francois, because it threatens my dream.”
“I could have his friendship and fatherly love and relationship forever,” Clemmons told People. “But I could have the job only if I stayed in the closet.”
“I was destroyed,” Clemmons said. “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. I didn’t have another mother or father to comfort me. I had no one to go and be a boy with. I was just vulnerable. He got in a few slaps, some tough love, a good spanking. But I was not kicked out of the family.”
Clemmons says that Rogers suggested he marry a woman, saying, “People do make some compromises in life.”
“By the time I left his office,” Clemmons writes in the book, “I had made up my mind to marry La-Tanya Mae Sheridan. At the wedding reception, Fred and Joanne approached me and my new wife. It felt as if Fred and I were sealing some kind of secret bargain.”
Clemmons and Sheridan divorced amicably shortly after getting married.
“I forgive him,” Clemmons told People. “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.”