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What exactly were Mister Rogers' views towards the LGBTQ community?

In many ways, Rogers was well ahead of his time, boldly pushing boundaries in the right directions.

Mister Rogers, gay acceptance, movie, compassion
Screenshot via YouTube official trailer, "Won't You Be My Neighbor?"

Mister Rogers consistently shared love and kindness.

A few nights ago, I was sitting in a dark theater — popcorn in hand and tears leaking down my face — embarrassingly bent out of a shape from a movietrailer. Fred Rogers was to blame.

The whimsical theme song to "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood" concluded a short but powerfully nostalgic preview for the new documentary about the soft-spoken star, "Won't You Be My Neighbor?" And yeah, I'd morphed into a teary-eyed hot mess in a matter of seconds.



A question popped into my queer little brain right then, though, and I'm not entirely sure why:

Could Rogers have quietly been a homophobe?

He was a religious dude who grew up in a wildly different era than today. It's a toxic combination that, if we're overgeneralizing and I reflect on my personal experience, tends to produce the worst kinds of homophobes. Had the former Presbyterian minister been as saintly to queers like me as he'd been to seemingly everyone else?

I needed answers! So I went searching.

big-hearted, television show, compassion, counterculture

History suggests Rogers saw humanity in LGBTQ community.

Photo pulled from YouTube official trailer, "Won't You Be My Neighbor?"


But first, let it be known that I respect Rogers and cherish the mark his big-hearted series left on me and generations past; I certainly wasn't looking for justifications to write a "Mister Rogers" hit piece. In a dark and dreary world, Rogers was a reliably bright light, and I wanted whatever I discovered to confirm my suspicions that the beloved children's advocate was a benevolent force for good — and nothing else.

But one thing I've come to learn as a jaded gay man is that the more flawless a fave of mine seems to be, the harder they fall from the high pedestal I've placed them on once their shortcomings inevitably air. Rogers could very well be the latest victim of my hero-worshipping, I warned myself, opening a Google tab with a preemptive cringe.

Here are the two big things I discovered:

1. Rogers' unfaltering kindness and compassion certainly extended to the LGBTQ community.

Rogers didn't go on the record with specific opinions about LGBTQ people or the matters that affect them (at least from what I could find). But others have reported their experiences with him on the topic. By putting those puzzle pieces together, I would confidently argue that Rogers saw the humanity in LGBTQ people.

He didn't let his faith box him into any certain ideology regarding gay people or their rights. Michael G. Long, who authored the biographical "Peaceful Neighbor: Discovering the Countercultural Mister Rogers," noted Rogers' church in Pittsburgh was and continues to be inclusive to the LGBTQ community. Rogers' widow, Joanne, has said her husband had close friends who were gay, according to Slate.

He also stood strong against outside pressures to use his platform to condemn same-gender relationships, according to Vox's Todd VanDerWerff. Panning homosexuality likely would have been applauded by many parents tuning in, as mainstream America widely embraced homophobic attitudes throughout much of Rogers' reign.

But doing such a thing on-air never felt right to the sweater-loving saint. "He felt everybody was, in some way, a reflection of God," VanDerWerff wrote.


2. But Rogers wasn't immune to the backward views society has held of queer people.

While Rogers hired and befriended Francois Clemmons — a gay man who played Officer Clemmons in the series for 25 years — he didn't necessarily want the show associated with Clemmons' sexual orientation, either.

After word got back to Rogers that Clemmons had been spotted in a gay bar, Rogers asked the actor to avoid such venues, fearful Clemmons' sexuality would bring negative attention to the show.

"It was not a personal statement of how he felt about me," Clemmons assured UU World in 2016, noting the two remained close friends. "It had to do with the economics of the show."

Rogers urged him to stay in the closet, believing Clemmons' sexuality may alienate viewers. He encouraged him to marry a woman, too. Clemmons did — and the relationship ended in divorce a few years later.

It's difficult to reconcile the harmful actions of an icon who lived in a different time.

I wish Rogers had addressed Clemmons' predicament differently, of course. I wish he'd celebrated Clemmons' queerness on screen and off and allowed the actor to sashay his way on stage one trailblazing episode, rainbow flag held high.

But that's the thing: The rainbow flag wasn't associated with LGBTQ pride when Clemmons considered leaving the closet, because LGBTQ pride wasn't even a thing in those pre-Stonewall days (at least in the mainstream). It's not reasonable for me to expect a straight, cisgender man — even a superhero like Rogers — to possess a visionary moral compass and will to champion queer rights half a century before same-gender marriage even became normalized.

Rogers was extraordinary — but he wasn't a social justice clairvoyant.

Mister Rogers' empathetic nature pushed him, and his viewers, to be bold and continually grow in wonderful ways.

It's what has helped enshrine my appreciation for him and his show.

He adored kids and relentlessly fought for their wellbeing. His show regularly took on important and tough topics, like racism, the messiness of divorce, and the importance of inclusion. In many ways, Rogers was well ahead of his time, boldly pushing boundaries in the right directions.

Even on queer issues, Rogers evolved as time went on.


As Long wrote for HuffPost in 2014, Rogers' perspective on Clemmons' sexuality shifted throughout the years:

"Rogers evidently believed Clemmons would tank his career had he come out as a gay man in the late 1960s. But — and this is a crucial point —Rogers later revised his counsel to his younger friend. As countless gays came out more publicly following the Stonewall uprising, Rogers even urged Clemmons to enter into a longterm and stable gay relationship. And he always warmly welcomed Clemmons’ gay friends whenever they visited the television set in Pittsburgh."

I can't speak for Mister Rogers, of course. But he was the one who always told me, "I like you just the way you are."

If he were around today, I'd like to think queer kids would feel right at home in his neighborhood, too.

Watch the trailer (that made me cry) for "Won't You Be My Neightbor?" below:

This article originally appeared on 06.07.18


Identity

Celebrate International Women's Day with these stunning photos of female leaders changing the world

The portraits, taken by acclaimed photographer Nigel Barker, are part of CARE's "She Leads the World" campaign.

Images provided by CARE

Kadiatu (left), Zainab (right)

True

Women are breaking down barriers every day. They are transforming the world into a more equitable place with every scientific discovery, athletic feat, social justice reform, artistic endeavor, leadership role, and community outreach project.

And while these breakthroughs are happening all the time, International Women’s Day (Mar 8) is when we can all take time to acknowledge the collective progress, and celebrate how “She Leads the World.

This year, CARE, a leading global humanitarian organization dedicated to empowering women and girls, is celebrating International Women’s Day through the power of portraiture. CARE partnered with high-profile photographer Nigel Barker, best known for his work on “America’s Next Top Model,” to capture breathtaking images of seven remarkable women who have prevailed over countless obstacles to become leaders within their communities.

“Mabinty, Isatu, Adama, and Kadiatu represent so many women around the world overcoming incredible obstacles to lead their communities,” said Michelle Nunn, President and CEO of CARE USA.

Barker’s bold portraits, as part of CARE’s “She Leads The World” campaign, not only elevate each woman’s story, but also shine a spotlight on how CARE programs helped them get to where they are today.

About the women:

Mabinty

international womens day, care.org

Mabinty is a businesswoman and a member of a CARE savings circle along with a group of other women. She buys and sells groundnuts, rice, and fuel. She and her husband have created such a successful enterprise that Mabinty volunteers her time as a teacher in the local school. She was the first woman to teach there, prompting a second woman to do so. Her fellow teachers and students look up to Mabinty as the leader and educator she is.

Kadiatu

international womens day, care.org

Kadiatu supports herself through a small business selling food. She also volunteers at a health clinic in the neighboring village where she is a nursing student. She tests for malaria, works with infants, and joins her fellow staff in dancing and singing with the women who visit the clinic. She aspires to become a full-time nurse so she can treat and cure people. Today, she leads by example and with ambition.

Isatu

international womens day, care.org

When Isatu was three months pregnant, her husband left her, seeking his fortune in the gold mines. Now Isatu makes her own way, buying and selling food to support her four children. It is a struggle, but Isatu is determined to be a part of her community and a provider for her kids. A single mother of four is nothing if not a leader.

Zainab

international womens day, care.org

Zainab is the Nurse in Charge at the Maternal Child Health Outpost in her community. She is the only nurse in the surrounding area, and so she is responsible for the pre-natal health of the community’s mothers-to-be and for the safe delivery of their babies. In a country with one of the world’s worst maternal death rates, Zainab has not lost a single mother. The community rallies around Zainab and the work she does. She describes the women who visit the clinic as sisters. That feeling is clearly mutual.

Adama

international womens day, care.org

Adama is something few women are - a kehkeh driver. A kehkeh is a three-wheeled motorcycle taxi, known elsewhere as a tuktuk. Working in the Kissy neighborhood of Freetown, Adama is the primary breadwinner for her family, including her son. She keeps her riders safe in other ways, too, by selling condoms. With HIV threatening to increase its spread, this is a vital service to the community.

Ya Yaebo

international womens day, care.org

“Ya” is a term of respect for older, accomplished women. Ya Yaebo has earned that title as head of her local farmers group. But there is much more than that. She started as a Village Savings and Loan Association member and began putting money into her business. There is the groundnut farm, her team buys and sells rice, and own their own oil processing machine. They even supply seeds to the Ministry of Agriculture. She has used her success to the benefit of people in need in her community and is a vocal advocate for educating girls, not having gone beyond grade seven herself.

On Monday, March 4, CARE will host an exhibition of photography in New York City featuring these portraits, kicking off the multi-day “She Leads the World Campaign.

Learn more, view the portraits, and join CARE’s International Women's Day "She Leads the World" celebration at CARE.org/sheleads.


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