6:00am PT by David Yost
'Power Rangers' Star: Why an LGBTQ Superhero Is a Big Step Forward (Guest Column)
David Yost is an actor and producer known for playing Billy Cranston/The Blue Ranger on Mighty Morphin Power Rangers from 1993-96. Yost is looking back on challenging times he faced on the series and examining the positive impact the new Power Rangers film could have with its groundbreaking portrayal of the first big-screen LGBTQ superhero.
When I first moved to Hollywood in the '90s to be an actor, it was still considered taboo to be gay, especially if you wanted to be a leading actor in TV series or film. If you were gay, you certainly were not allowed to make it public. And if you did, you were essentially shooting yourself in the foot, because you were not going to get any roles.
I was struggling so much with who I was and not wanting to be gay because of what society was telling me — that it's not a good thing, that it's against God, that you are somehow different. All I wanted to do was be a working actor. So I had to struggle with not being true to myself. When I was on Power Rangers, I never once was dating anybody. I was living a life that wasn't fulfilling and constantly filled with lies to cover my tracks.
There were comments at work that were made about me in terms of being gay or "being a faggot," and as time went on it just got old and I was tired of listening to it. People always questioning me, "Why don't you have a girlfriend?” and all of the numerous rumors that went along with that. All I wanted was to go to work and do my job with no issues. But as time went on, more and more comments were getting made to the point where I couldn't keep going on like that, because it was really affecting my psyche and my ability to do my job.
In the '90s, there was really no HR person that I could go to and speak to about what was going on. I certainly couldn't go to my producers and say, "Hey, people are saying this or that and I don't like it.” If I were to do that, I would out myself. And if you out yourself, you're done.
I thought, "OK, I need to leave, because if I stay, I'm going to end up killing myself."
After I left Power Rangers, I was still in a really dark place. I had already started the conversation of conversion therapy [a debunked and controversial treatment designed to change a person's sexual orientation] while I was on Power Rangers, probably in my last three months. When I left, I got more heavily involved in it. I was reading five different versions of The Bible. I was praying a lot and meeting with spiritual healers. I was doing any and everything I could to get rid of being gay.
When I was doing conversion therapy, I could literally feel a shift in my body. It felt like I was going against my natural state. I could feel an internal struggle going on within my body and mind. Eventually this is what led to my nervous breakdown, because I was not being authentic to who I was. Sometimes in life you have to hit rock bottom in order to change. My nervous breakdown was my rock bottom.
I was hospitalized and went on medication to get me through it and start the process of learning to accept myself. I finally got to a point in my mind where I said, "This is not OK. This is not how I want to live."
I can remember lying in bed my first night in the hospital, and saying, "God, if you give me my mind back, I will be gay." And I started the long process of getting my mind back and being healthy and accepting the truth of who I am.
When Ellen DeGeneres came out in 1997, she really changed the landscape of everything and really opened the door for so many of us. I owe her a ton of gratitude. She really paved the way for so many people, and now we've seen Neil Patrick Harris, T.R. Knight and Jim Parsons step forward. We've seen all these people come to the forefront and say, "This is who I am."
Growing up, I lived in Montana and Iowa. I must have been in seventh or eighth grade when Rock Hudson died. He was one of the first famous casualties to AIDS. I remember listening to my peers talking about him and saying really horrible things about gay people. And that really affected me. I thought, "Wow, I'm like Rock Hudson," and, "They are saying all these things about me.” This caused me to cower and start hiding the truth of who I was.
In 2010, I spoke out publicly about the harassment that happened to me while I was on Power Rangers because we were seeing an upswing of teenage suicides. A lot of those suicides were kids who were struggling with their sexuality and that really hit me hard because I had struggled so much with suicide, especially when I was on Power Rangers. There were at least three times where I really contemplated killing myself very seriously while I was on the show. When I saw and read what people were telling these poor kids, like that they are bad and against God, it really hurt my heart. I just wanted to step forward and say, "I've struggled with this, but I want you to know that you can get through this and you're not a bad person."
With the new Power Rangers movie including an LGBTQI character, they really stepped up to the plate, and I think so many people in the LGBTQI community are going to be excited to see that representation.
People always ask me, "Wouldn't it be great if there's a gay character on one of the Power Rangers TV series?" And I always say, "Yes, it would be great, but I don't want people to feel like producers or television studios need to be forced into creating these characters. I want it to feel like these characters come into being organically. With the new Power Rangers, it feels like it was the right choice for the right character, so that makes me even more happy.
Choosing the character of Trini adds a whole different dimension to what can be done with that character in terms of being a questioning youth or a lesbian and coming to terms with all of those feelings that you have when you are a teenager. I think that's awesome to portray.
The more Hollywood puts lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender, questioning, intersex characters in a film or TV show, it helps people understand and see that people are just people. And that we're all the same. We're not deviants. We're not all these horrible things many people want to say. For people that don't get to experience LGBTQI people in real life, seeing these types of characters on TV or in films helps normalize us to them, which I think is necessary and vital.
I've been fortunate enough to become friends with RJ Cyler, who is playing the new Billy. He's really a great actor. We've gone to lunch a few times, and I'm really excited for him and the rest of the cast. Something that we learned as Power Rangers that we weren't expecting was that the Power Rangers really influenced people's lives in ways that we as actors could not comprehend. And so the more I travel around the world, and the more people that come up to me and tell me their stories about how the Power Rangers influenced them, it's humbling and mind blowing and I love it. This new cast of Power Rangers get to come into this realm, and it's going to change their lives in ways they never could have expected. I'm really excited for them.