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Joy

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.

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 was written by Robbie Couch and originally appeared on 06.07.18


Judging by social media posts, one of the most common reactions to Joe Biden's town hall last night was a feeling of calm. Throughout the evening, comment after comment from viewers praised the former vice president's full, coherent sentences (a low bar, but here we are) and detailed policy explanations, with many remarking that they felt a sense of calm wash over them as he spoke.

There was no shortage of comparisons of the two candidates as people flipped back and forth between the two town hall events, with the individual-focused format allowing the contrast between them to be made crystal clear.

And oddly enough, one of the most apt comparisons came in the form of a remarkable self-own from a senior adviser on Trump's campaign team. In response to someone complaining that Savannah Guthrie asking tough questions of the president was "badgering," Mercedes Schlapp responded, "Well @JoeBiden @ABCPolitics townhall feels like I am watching an episode of Mister Rodgers Neighborhood."


Aside from the misspelling of Mister Rogers' name, the tweet could not have been more spot on. The baffling thing was that Ms. Schlapp apparently intended for the comparison to be an insult. Umm, has she ever actually watched Mister Rogers' Neighborhood? Does she know that Mister Rogers was and is a beloved America icon? Is she aware of the incredible gift that this tweet was to the Biden campaign?

Mister Rogers embodied decency and goodness, epitomized what it means to be a man of character, and established his legacy by genuinely connecting with people of all walks of life. Who he was in his show was who he was in real life, according to everyone who knew or worked with him. He's famous for is compassionate authenticity.

Perhaps Ms. Schlapp was trying to imply that the Biden town hall was boring? But the thing is, Mister Rogers wasn't boring—he was soothing. He captured the hearts and imaginations of countless Americans during his decades on television. And got people's attention—even small children—without flashiness or outrageousness, but with true kindness and genuine joy.

Americans have grown weary of chaos and bullying and incoherent ranting. An episode of Mister Rogers is exactly the feeling tens of millions of us crave right now.

And it's not as if Fred Rogers only appealed to children. When he was given a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Emmy's, he made audience members tear up, not just with what he said, but with 10 seconds of silence in which he asked people to think about the people in their lives who had "loved them into being" and made them who they are.

At the same time, Rogers' example to children shouldn't be overlooked. Many Americans yearn to return to a time when the president, regardless of party, was someone we could let our kids watch without having to follow it up with a lesson on how not to behave.

Mister Rogers wasn't just calm and compassionate—he exuded a selflessness and generosity of spirit that was palpable. He shared his feelings and was very personal in his interactions, but he didn't make things about him. He made everything about us.Some might claim the comparison was meant to be about the town hall hosts and not the candidates, but in the words of Joe Biden, "Come on, man." The reality is that Biden's town hall felt like a Mister Rogers' episode because it was a civilized event with a civilized candidate. If Trump hadn't spent four years peddling piles of untruths and coddling conspiracy theorists, he wouldn't have to be confronted about his untruths and retweeting of conspiracy theories. You make the bed, you have to be willing to lie in it.

Considering the name misspelling and the obvious misstep in trying to use Mister Rogers or his show as any sort of insult, it seems clear that some folks on the Trump team could use a little more Fred Rogers in their lives.

Then again, considering the fact that Fox News called Mister Rogers "evil" once and claimed that his telling kids they were special just the way they were just made kids feel "entitled," sitting someone with a skewed sense of reality down to binge watch Mister Rogers episodes might not do any good. You can lead a horse to water, etc.

The point is that the tweet backfired spectacularly, since it showed that either 1) The Trump campaign is so out of touch with American culture that they think a comparison to Mister Rogers is in any way a negative, or 2) The Trump campaign is so inept that they just highlighted how a conversation with Joe Biden elicits the same calm, compassion and reassurance as one of America's most beloved heroes.

Either way, ouch.

P.S. Biden also stayed long after the cameras were off to talk to people who didn't get a chance to ask their questions—very Fred Rogers-like. That's what a being good neighbor and a good president looks like.

dreambird/Flickr (left) Matt Hoffman/Unsplash (right)

The world can't seem to get enough of Mister Rogers, and for good reason. In an era of salacious reality television, online trolls, and non-stop political scandals, Fred Rogers remains a pure beam of light and goodness, even 16 years after his passing.

The movie "A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood" opened to rave reviews Thanksgiving week, and has spawned a slew of stories and articles about the beloved children's television star. But one little-known Fred Rogers story in particular seems perfectly fitting for this holiday season.


RELATED: The first trailer showing Tom Hanks as Mr. Rogers is here, and the world can't handle this much goodness

A recent article in the Washington Post tells a story of Rogers being asked to help decorate Hallmark's flagship store in Manhattan during the holidays. In his book, "The Good Neighbor," biographer Maxwell King describes Rogers visiting the store and seeing other famous people's ornate, over-the-top displays. But that was hardly Mister Rogers' M.O. After seeing what others had created, Rogers returned home and designed a display perfectly befitting his person and purpose.

Imagine a clear glass Lucite cube encapsulating a single Norfolk Island pine tree, approximately the height of a child. No decorations. No ornaments or tinsel. Just the simple, bare tree, roots and all. And at the bottom, a plaque that reads, "I like you just the way you are." That was his design.

Oh, Mister Rogers. I know you weren't perfect, but you were pretty darn close.

Fred Rogers didn't just love children; he understood them on a level deeper than most. Millions of us spent a good portion of our childhoods watching him methodically change his sweater and shoes, feed his fish, and take us on the trolley to the Land of Make Believe. We listened to him talk about feelings, about how each one of us is special in our own way. We learned about neighbors and community, about hospitality and support. His show wasn't about teaching kids letters and numbers, but about teaching us how to be whole, compassionate humans.

RELATED: There's a wonderful reason why Mister Rogers always said aloud he's feeding his fish.

He never wavered in the message that every child is capable of loving and being loved. He never wavered in his belief that expressing our feelings was healthy and that children need a safe place to do just that. He never wavered in his humanity or his passionate defense of quality programming for children.

And his conviction that every child was special and worthy of being loved just the way they are was summed up in that simple Christmas tree display. You don't have to do anything extraordinary to be liked. You don't have to dress yourself up in fancy things to be lovable. You don't have to change yourself or be anything other than who you are to be worthy.

Mister Rogers expounded a simple truth that people spend thousands of dollars in therapy to discover, and his gentle way of conveying that message to children made him a hero to so many of us. And the world needs him now more than ever.

Let's keep sharing his legacy through these stories from his life, because every generation deserves the uplifting gift of Fred Rogers.

There have been a lot of tragic, hard-to-understand things in the news lately.

It can feel like the world is falling apart around us, with barely any time to make sense of it all.

When you're a parent, you know there's another dimension to these hard-to-stomach news events. Not only do you have to cope with them, you have to find a way to explain it all to your children.


Senseless mayhem has always been going on. For a generation of kids and parents, there was an amazing resource available to help them out, and all you had to do was click on the television and his calm, welcoming demeanor would appear.

Mister Rogers (aka Fred Rogers) in his time on the air was a great source of caring guidance on how to process such unsettling topics. In an episode that first aired in 1981, he laid out some amazing, still-relevant tips for kids and adults facing bad news.

1. He wanted to make sure children had a supportive adult to help them feel strong enough for these conversations.

When possible, it's always best for a child to have the stabilizing presence of a trusted caretaker for the big stuff in life. By inviting his young viewers to find one before jumping into this conversation, he's making sure the children have a resource if they have more questions about this stuff.

All GIFs from "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood."

“Please get a grown-up that you love to watch this program with you because we’re going to talk about some sad and scary things.”

2. He tried to help kids understand why people do such nasty things.

In the video below, you can notice how he avoids calling the people who do terrible things "bad" themselves. He discusses their behavior and their possible motivations. And he helps kids understand that there are other ways they can deal with their own feelings than to damage others.

"There are people in the world who are so sick or so angry that they sometimes hurt other people. And they’re usually the ones who end up in the news. Remember hearing about John Lennon being shot in New York, and President Reagan and his friends in Washington, and the Pope in Rome, and the young people being murdered in Atlanta and other places? Well the people who are doing these terrible things are making a lot of other people sad and angry. But when we get sad and angry, you and I, we know what to do with our feelings so we don’t have to hurt other people."

3. He checked in with some schoolkids to hear their thoughts and feelings, something that the kids at home could relate with.

During the segment, a girl told Rogers how she once reacted to news of a shooting. "When I heard about when that one man got shot in the head I ran upstairs to my bed and started praying for him, that he’d stay alive," she said.

Another girl mentioned that she thought some people are just trying to pay everybody back for the painful things in their lives.

4. Then he passes on his favorite advice that his mother gave him when he was a boy.

"When I was a boy and I would hear about something scary … I’d ask my parents or my grandparents about it, and they would usually tell me how they felt about it. In fact, my mother would try to find out who was helping the person who got hurt.

'Always look for the people who are helping,' she’d tell us. 'You’ll always find somebody who’s trying to help.'"

This quote has resurfaced in the past few years on social media, bringing great comfort to adults and young people when the news takes a turn for the worse.

If you have a few minutes, watching this can be comforting and nostalgic. You may even want to show it to the kids in your life!

So that's what we do in times like the ones we keep hearing about today, everyone. We look for the helpers. And if you can't find one, be one.