Kevin Clash — the openly gay actor who voices Sesame Street’s Muppet character Elmo — has taken a leave of absence to fight accusations that he had a sexual relationship with an underage male.
The Sesame Workshop broke the story early Monday morning, announcing that in June of this year, it received a communication from a then 23-year-old man who alleged that he had a relationship with Clash, beginning when he was 16-years-old.
“We took the allegation very seriously and took immediate action. We met with the accuser twice and had repeated communications with him. We met with Kevin, who denied the accusation. We also conducted a thorough investigation and found the allegation of underage conduct to be unsubstantiated,” the Sesame Workshop said, in a statement.
“Although this was a personal relationship unrelated to the workplace, our investigation did reveal that Kevin exercised poor judgment and violated company policy regarding internet usage and he was disciplined.
“Kevin insists that the allegation of underage conduct is false and defamatory and he is taking actions to protect his reputation. We have granted him a leave of absence to do so.”
Clash has acknowledged the relationship, but insisted that the accuser was legally an adult at the time.
“I am a gay man. I have never been ashamed of this or tried to hide it,” Clash said, in a statement issued Monday afternoon. “I had a relationship with the accuser. It was between two consenting adults and I am deeply saddened that he is trying to characterize it as something other than what it was. I am taking a break from Sesame Workshop to deal with this false and defamatory allegation.”
Sesame Workshop, formerly known as the Children’s Television Workshop, is a Worldwide American non-profit organization behind the production of several educational children’s programs, including PBS’ long-running “Sesame Street.”
Update, 11/14/2012: The Smoking Gun has identified Clash’s accuser as 24-year-old model and actor Sheldon Stephens.