Go, Gay Power Ranger!
By Jase Peeples
Originally published: The Advocate 11/5/13
David Yost says he knew he was gay by the time he was in the second grade.
“There was this kid named Alan in my class who used to pretend he was Wonder Woman at recess,” he says. “He would spin around in three circles and then run up and kiss boys on their cheeks. Everyone would make fun of him, but secretly I knew I was just like him — that I liked other boys.”
The 44-year-old actor, who speaks in a warm and gentle tone as he recalls the memory of his earliest acknowledgment of his sexual orientation, says he is a far different man than the one who once played Billy Cranston, the original Blue Ranger on the hit TV series Mighty Morphin Power Rangers. For Yost, the journey to accept himself as a gay man has been filled with fear, danger, and self-loathing. But Yost hopes to help LGBT youth avoid the negative coming out he experienced by sharing his story.
Born in the small town of Council Bluffs, Iowa, Yost had gift for “jumping and tumbling around” at an early age, and his parents quickly enrolled him in gymnastic classes to help him cultivate his talent. He excelled in the sport, winning several competitions in the years that followed, including the Iowa and Montana gymnastics state championships. But while his athletic ability made him a capable gymnast, Yost says his true passion became clear when he discovered acting. “I got the acting bug after I played Dopey in Snow White and the Seven Dwarves in grade school,” he says. “From that moment on, I always knew I wanted to be an actor.”
Unbeknownst to his parents, acting soon began to eclipse Yost’s love of gymnastics, and he would often skip lessons to sneak off and audition for local plays. But all the while, he was hiding a much bigger part of himself from everyone around him — and hating it.
“I developed a hatred for myself at a very young age,” Yost says. “In the church I went to as a kid, I always got messages that being gay was wrong, that it was a sin and against God. I can remember hearing those things over and over. People in church would make horrible comments about gay people, and while they weren’t talking about me specifically, I knew they were, because I knew I was gay.”
By 1987, Yost graduated from high school and began attending Graceland College (now Graceland University) in Lamoni, Iowa. It was there, he says, that his feelings of self-loathing eased and he took his first steps toward accepting himself as a gay man. In college, Yost says, several people in his circle of friends were aware of his sexuality, and he became romantically involved with another man for five months during his senior year. But when he moved to Los Angeles after graduating to pursue his dream of being an actor, he chose to slam the closet door on his sexuality once again.
Above: Yost, Thuy Trang, Jason David Frank, Amy Jo Johnson, Austin St. John, and Walter Jones in the first season of Mighty Morphin Power Rangers.
“When I moved to L.A., I made a pact with myself that I would no longer be gay,” Yost says. “If anyone asked, I denied it up and down because in my mind, I wasn’t. I wasn’t in a relationship and I wasn’t having sex with anybody. So I had convinced myself that meant I wasn’t gay.”
Instead, Yost focused his energy on his career and got the break of a lifetime three months after arriving in Southern California, when he auditioned for a part in Mighty Morphin Power Rangers and landed the role of Billy Cranston, the Blue Ranger. The show was an unprecedented hit, quickly making Yost and his fellow cast mates household names. However, Yost’s Hollywood dreams soon devolved into a living nightmare. As the show’s popularity increased, rumors about the sexuality of the actor beneath the blue helmet circulated on set. “As time went on, because I wasn’t dating anyone, I think people began to question things,” says Yost. “I was struggling with my sexuality and I was terrified it would ruin my career.”
What began as occasional snide comments about his perceived sexual orientation soon turned into full-fledged bullying by members of the Power Rangers production team, says Yost. He was regularly called antigay slurs like “faggot,” and he learned his costars were questioned in private about his sexuality by producers on a number of occasions. “It was humiliating,” he says. “It really became confusing for me, because I had no idea how to defend myself or even if I should. I loved my job, but people were making my work environment less than desirable. I just wanted to be left alone and allowed to act, but this ‘gay thing’ kept getting in my way. I hated who I was. I didn’t want to be gay, and I was scared speaking up would jeopardize my career. It was a very lonely time for me.”
Yost says the harassment became so severe he started to “seriously contemplate suicide” — repeatedly told by others working on the series that a person like him did not belong in the role of a superhero. Feeling isolated and fearful that he might take his own life, Yost decided to leave the role that made him a star and abruptly quit Power Rangers during filming of the show’s fourth season. “That was probably the most unprofessional thing I had ever done, but I felt backed into a corner,” he says. “I dreaded the idea of working another six months into the second feature film. I was honestly afraid I might kill myself.”
Desperate to regain control of his life, Yost underwent gay-to-straight “conversion therapy” during the following two years before it eventually led to a nervous breakdown. “It was such a bizarre experience, and it caused me a lot of mental anguish since my attraction to men obviously wasn’t going away,” he says. “Internally, I was denying what was natural to me, and when you suppress who you are that much, well, in my case there was no choice but to have a nervous breakdown.”
After spending five weeks in a psychiatric hospital, Yost moved to Mexico to recover from the breakdown he had suffered. Over the next year, he slowly came to terms with his sexuality and eventually grew to truly love himself for the first time in his life. To his relief, he found he was also embraced by his family after coming out of the closet. “I had such a fear of rejection,” he says. “I look back and wonder why I ever put myself through what I did. The hardest part is knowing I hated myself because of what other people dictated about me. That still really tugs at my heart.”
Above: Yost and Karan Ashley sign their names in concrete at the Grauman’s Chinese Theatre for the launch of The Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: The Movie in 1995.
In 2010, Yost decided to come out publicly in an interview with No Pink Spandex and share his story for the first time after a rash of LGBT teen suicides gained national media attention. He also began working with LGBT youth organizations like the Trevor Project. “The influx of teen suicides in the media became overwhelming for me and it was weighing heavily on my heart,” he says. “I wanted to let people know what I had put myself through — all the darkness and mental anguish — and how unnecessary it all was. I could relate to the religious context that so many experience and the condemnation they can feel from their churches, their families, and their peers. I hoped that my story would resonate enough with anyone struggling or contemplating suicide to reconsider and find another way.”
Since coming out, Yost says, he has received an outpouring of support from fans who grew up idolizing the blue spandex-clad superhero he once portrayed, and many have told him they were indeed moved by hearing about his struggles. “Because of the 20th anniversary of Power Rangers, I’ve been attending a lot of conventions around the world this year,” Yost says. “No matter where we’re at, there’s at least one person who approaches me and thanks me for coming out and telling my story because it helped them come out to their family and friends. I’m glad that people are able to take some kind of courage from what I went through and be who they are.”
Though Yost is no longer directly involved in Power Rangers, he says he harbors no bad feelings about his past with the series, and he remains close to several of his costars. “Anyone who knows me knows I’m all about forgiveness,” he says. “For the most part, [the Power Rangers crew] have been very accepting and a couple of people have even told me they were sorry if they’d ever said anything that upset or hurt me back then.”
Today, Yost continues to work in entertainment behind the camera for a variety of TV shows, including The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills and Burning Love. But he hopes to see diversity in programing aimed at young people evolve to include LGBT characters in the near future. “I would love to see a gay character introduced on a show like Power Rangers,” he says. “There’s a whole realm of possible stories there we’ve only begun to tap into, and gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, questioning, and intersex young people need to see themselves reflected in world around them.”