Bert And Ernie Are Just Friends: Sesame Workshop

Bert and Ernie are just best friends. That’s according to Sesame Workshop, the nonprofit behind the popular “Sesame Street” franchise.

“Even though they are identified as male … they remain puppets,” Sesame Workshop said of the iconic duo in a statement. “[They] do not have a sexual orientation.”

If you’re one of the many who see Bert and Ernie as a loving gay couple, however, your viewpoint has merit.

Mark Saltzman, a writer who joined the show in 1984, outed Bert and Ernie in an interview with Queerty. “I always felt that without a huge agenda, when I was writing Bert and Ernie, they were [gay],” he said.

It wasn’t necessarily explicit or intentional.

“That’s what I had in my life, a Bert and Ernie relationship,” Saltzman said. “How could it not permeate?”

Saltzman said “more than one person referred to Arnie and I as “Bert and Ernie.”

In 1984 when he was hired, Saltzman was with his late partner of more than 20 years, Arnie Glassman, whom he described as “the love of my life.” Glassman, an acclaimed editor, died in 2003.

“I don’t think I’d know how else to write [Bert and Ernie], but as a loving couple,” he said.

The parallels are clear, he said.

“I wrote sketches … Arnie’s OCD would create friction with how chaotic I was,” he said. “And that’s the Bert and Ernie dynamic.”

After Saltzman’s interview, Sesame Workshop seemed to try for middle ground, saying in a statement Bert and Ernie don’t have a sexual orientation:

As we have always said, Bert and Ernie are best friends. They were created to teach preschoolers that people can be good friends with those who are very different from themselves. Even though they are identified as male characters and possess many human traits and characteristics (as most Sesame Street Muppets do), they remain puppets, and do not have a sexual orientation.

The statement reignited an already volatile discussion about gender politics and culture in the U.S. Many conservative Americans see wholesome values as a top concern, especially in a kids’ T.V. show. In 2011, a 7,000-signature petition to have the duo get married was shot down by producers, who reiterated “they remain puppets and do not have a sexual orientation.” On the more progressive side of the coin, people see inclusion and acceptance of the LGBTQ community as one of those values.

The response was mixed and likely more voluminous than expected. Some agreed that sexual orientation should be left out of it. Most on Twitter, however, said sexual orientation was already a part of the show, and Bert and Ernie shouldn’t be shamed for being gay.

One producer proposed a compromise:

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Five hours after their first statement, Sesame Workshop released another statement, reiterating that the show “has always stood for inclusion and acceptance.”

Straight, gay or neither, Bert and Ernie have become iconic figures in the gay community. The BBC reported they inspired parts of “Avenue Q,” a Broadway musical.

And be assured, even amid polarization on LGBTQ issues, the beloved puppets will continue to inspire with lessons of acceptance of people’s differences.


Article image Andreas Gora/Action Press/Shutterstock

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