Francois Clemmons, the actor who played Officer Clemmons on Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, is opening up about his coming out experience and why Fred Rogers told him to stay in the closet.
The 75-year-old actor is releasing a new memoir and he writes about the day he was called into Fred‘s office.
He says that Fred told him, “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. 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.”
Francois told People, “I could have his friendship and fatherly love and relationship forever. But I could have the job only if I stayed in the closet.”
“‘You must do this Francois,’ he told me, ‘because it threatens my dream,’” Francois added.
He says that Fred also told him, “‘The world doesn’t really want to know who you’re sleeping with — especially if it’s a man. You can have it all if you can keep that part out of the limelight.’”
Francois also claims that Fred suggested to him that he marry a woman.
“By the time I left his office, 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,” he wrote in the memoir. The marriage only last six years and he began living life as a gay man after that.
Despite all of this, Francois says that he forgives Fred.
“Lord have mercy, yes, I forgive him,” he said. “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.”