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December 05, 2018 at 03:27 PM EST

As a Mighty Morphin Power Rangers star, David Yost was beloved by millions of fans around the world — but privately the actor spent his time as Billy the Blue Ranger wrestling with a personal struggle he tried to keep hidden for so many years.

Now Yost — speaking to EW as part of an extensive oral history in Entertainment Weekly’s recent issue celebrating the 25th anniversary of the hit Fox Kids series’ first season — is opening up about coming to terms with his sexual orientation, why he entered gay conversion therapy, and how his fans have reacted since he came out publicly.

“It’s hard when you have a certain amount of fame and you’re going through the personal struggle that I was going through as a gay person,” says Yost, 49, who has said he was harassed on the Power Rangers set by some crew members because he is gay. “In the ’90s it was very difficult. And in Hollywood it was looked upon not well.”

David Yost, Thuy Trang, Jason David Frank, Austin St. John, Amy Jo Johnson, Walter Emanuel Jones on Mighty Morphin Power Rangers in 1993.
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After leaving the show in 1996, Yost says he entered conversion therapy, a practice that is opposed by the American Psychiatric Association and that is criticized for it’s detrimental impact on patients (as explored in the recent move Boy Erased).

“I put myself through conversion therapy because I didn’t wanna be gay. And I really struggled and struggled and struggled with it,” says Yost. “And unfortunately I had a nervous breakdown and I checked into a hospital for five weeks and sorta had to start the process of learning to accept myself, which was very difficult; it took me many years after the fact.”

Yost admits being a recognizable face likely compounded his struggle to accept his sexual orientation.

“Being an actor that was on one of the most successful children’s show at the time, at times I would be embarrassed because I didn’t want people to know what I was going through and what I had gone through,” he says. “In the beginning, I certainly didn’t want people to know that I was gay. So it was a growth process but in a completely different way. And I don’t know. Maybe looking back on it now, maybe playing the character of Billy did help me in ways that I don’t even know.”

David Yost at the Power Rangers movie premiere in 2017.
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Since coming out publicly, Yost has done work to benefit organizations such as AIDS Project Los Angeles and The Children’s Hospitals AIDS Center and participated in the NOH8 Campaign. He also says he’s heard from fans who have found comfort in his journey to personal acceptance.

“Because I played the nerdy smart guy, I have fans tell me, ‘I went into science.’ ‘I’m a computer IT person.’ ‘I’m a doctor.’ I have one fan that’s a paleontologist, which I find fascinating, all because of Billy,” he says. “And now that I’ve come out as a gay person, every day I get messages from gay people around the world that tell me, ‘Thank you for coming out and sharing your story because your story helped me come out. I’m able to share your story with my family and help them understand what you went through is what I’m going through. And so, thank you.’ It’s amazing.”

Related content:

The original Power Rangers share memories of Yellow Ranger Thuy Trang, who died at age 27

The original Mighty Morphin Power Rangers look back on life in spandex 25 years later

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