Bert and Ernie Are…WHAT?!?
Many Sesame Street viewers — including a few wise kiddos — have long suspected that puppet odd couple Bert and Ernie are more than just friends. The prolific children’s series has never really addressed Bert and Ernie’s sexual orientation, but a former writer for Sesame Street confirms what most of us felt in our hearts all along…even if the show itself continues to issue denials.
Former Sesame Street writer Mark Saltzman recently spoke with LGBTQ lifestyle site Queerty (via People), where he said that he personally felt that Bert and Ernie were in a romantic relationship, which he compared to his own with partner and editor Arnold Glassman:
I always felt that without a huge agenda, when I was writing Bert and Ernie, they were. I didn’t have any other way to contextualize them. The other thing was, more than one person referred to Arnie and I as ‘Bert and Ernie.’
He adds that Bert and Ernie‘s relationship was definitely something that was discussed in the writers room. Saltzman specifically recalls reading an article where a little kid actually pointed this out to his mom:
I remember one time that a column from The San Francisco Chronicle, a preschooler in the city turned to mom and asked ‘Are Bert and Ernie lovers?’ That coming from a preschooler was fun, and that got passed around, and everyone had their chuckle and went back to it.
A person’s (or puppet’s) sexual orientation shouldn’t really matter — to the extent that it doesn’t define them — but visibility absolutely matters, which is why it’s disheartening to see this official statement from Sesame Street:
The Workshop released the above statement in response to Saltzman’s comments, and while I can understand their logic — basically puppets are like pets? — it’s still disappointing. Sesame Street, like Mister Rogers Neighborhood, has taught generations of children (and parents) to embrace diversity, to be practice kindness and generosity, and to not judge others for the things that make them different.
What would be the harm in saying, “Yeah, Bert and Ernie are gay”? Why not embrace the diversity in your own writing staff that led to these characters being written from a perspective that is still woefully lacking from children’s entertainment in 2018? Perhaps “lacking” isn’t the right word here; closeted seems more apt, unfortunately.
Representation is incredibly important, and arguably more so for children whose minds are still being molded by educational shows like Sesame Street. It seems counterintuitive to teach children to be accepting of those who are differently abled, or people who have grave illnesses (like Kami, the puppet with HIV), or of those who come from countries that are often the subject of intense bigotry (as with Mahboub, the Arab-Israeli puppet) — while willfully ignoring this aspect of modern family life.
It isn’t the first time that Sesame Workshop has issued a denial about Bert and Ernie’s relationship status. In 1994, Workshop boss Gary Knell said that Bert and Ernie aren’t gay, but that they aren’t straight either because “they don’t exist below the waist.” That’s fair, but what about the myriad human characters on the show? Why not introduce a gay person to Sesame Street? Or a trans person, for that matter?
In 2011, Sesame Workshop issued a Facebook statement pretty much identical to the one they issued today in response to Saltzman. Despite repeated denials, Bert and Ernie were featured in this loving image on the cover of The New Yorker in 2013, when gay marriage was legalized in the United States:
Sesame Workshop can deny it all they want, but Bert and Ernie were written as gay partners from the perspective of a gay man — and that’s not nothin’.