Franois Clemmons: Hi from Mister Rogers' Neighborhood
There has been so much written about Mister Rogers telling you that if you wanted to stay on the TV show. You could not be out of the closet. Did that make you adjust how you were behaving and presenting in private even in your personal life? Yes because I felt people first of all they show the photograph to friend so I felt an obligation not to be caught in those compromising situations because you see the first time someone told him I had gone to a club down in Pittsburgh called the play pin so I went there with a buddy of mine. We were dancing sweating and I go home. That was the extent of it but evidently somebody took it upon themselves to tell him that the other I've seen there and I felt violated adult man. Who in the world is telling him what? I'm doing what I do when I'm not on the show is my business and yet you ultimately agreed to stay in the closet. If you're GONNA stay on the show that was an emotional slash spiritual decision. I began to feel that I was therefore reason. Not just a happenstance. Once you have this inner feeling that I was at a meeting with destiny that I could not be casual and I couldn't deny what I knew I wasn't going to. I thought about what? What would it be like if you don't hold up your end of the bargain if you don't sacrifice in a way that has honored brings honor so? I really had a sense of obligation and commitment responsibility. Those words they haunted me. And when you say you had a responsibility who or what was that responsibility to the responsibility was to have a good face for white people who are watching this show. People were a little different in how they felt about my being on that show but white people would say all. That's terrible. Mr Rogers was so kind to you and you are gay person. You were caught in that alley that boxed up the back of the truck or somewhere and that's a disgrace. That's what I felt. I could not allowed to happen. We were there any out. Gay Black People in the media at that time No there weren't a lot. No you know who led the band the the European rock singers George and another one who just died. I was that David Bowie. Yes yes yes. Yes yes now. You're asking me specifically about black people. None of these guys are named or black. And I ask that because I didn't know if you ever considered not taking Mr Rogers advice and becoming out because there were so few media the I'm I'm a front runner. I do not care what they think. I'm speaking of my personal opinion. I've been blessed with strength and I will take care of myself. I don't care what they think but I love the man who did Fred Rogers and it would have been very very painful for him to have to go through that whole episode so I sat and I thought about it and I said you can do this you can and you will. I hadn't had love from father and it was so unconditional so bountiful that I sent. I can't give that up. I've never had it now. I've got it and I'm not going to throw it away. I'm not gonNA treat it lightly and casually. I love this man. He's treating me in a way that makes me feel whole makes me feel like a person that I'm wanted and needed and cherished in that community. They became my family all of them. So coming out you would have lost the show. You also would have lost. Your family would have been everything. It would have been a terrible loss. I had pulled in so tight with my stepfather. Beat me up. I said you know their relatives and I can't trust them. I began to allow myself to be feeling to be hillman when Mr Rogers asked you to stay in the closet. If he wanted to be on the show he also suggested that you get married. Would you have gotten married to your ex wife? Had he not suggested yes because he wasn't the only one I think who was advising me. She was my best friend so we hung up all the time all the time. An hour on the telephone was nothing for us and I didn't feel at that time that I was courting her as a lover rather than just simply expressing the this is my friend. I prefer her overall. You guys and you did have a few gay friends who knew you were gay. What was their reaction to you getting married. Oh they were surprised this what. What are you getting married for and I said well. That's my destiny. I think that's my life. I do have a lot of affection for her. And maybe that'll turn into erotic attraction it never did and when I was making love to her I was thinking about my boyfriend or somebody and so it became apparent to me that I had made a serious mistake because she was a very very nice person and she was deserving of a better relationship. And that's what I basically said to her. You know I can't give you can't be the husband that you need a want. I just can't yeah. I felt like a failure I had tried to do something and I was really down in the in the mouth say. I was so depressed that I had tried something big and I had bit off more than I could chew. Did Fred Rogers ever meet any of the menu had relationships with Oh later on he did and I have to tell you. He didn't have anything against gay people. I don't know how to share with you but I didn't have very many relationships with people. I've never lived with anyone except my former wife. I've always lived along not by choice. I think there were only two people that I had very quiet. Demure relationships with that lasted for fifteen years. Each were they quite because you felt that you couldn't come out of the closet fully. Yes in fact one of the sediment don't dress up tonight so they won't recognize you. You won't get any attention and just the two of us can go to this restaurant and this movie and be very quiet loving and cuddly sweet and when did you come out publicly. Maybe about ninety. When I started the Harlem Spiritual Ensemble. I felt very today I was I was holding a big bundle of life. I decided I'm coming out. I don't care who knows it. I'M NOT GONNA hide it. And so from then on people s not very many. I told him yes.