Bert and Ernie: More Than Friends?

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What has followed many people’s interest for years—and we are talking back to the show’s inception in 1969— is the sexual orientation of the beloved Sesame Street characters Bert and Ernie (originally depicted by Frank Oz and Jim Henson). Some people thought they were a little bit more than just really close friends who like to hang out. The joke that Bert and Ernie in Sesame Street are more than just friends has been a long running one. Even when the characters debuted back in 1969: Their sexual orientation was often joked about and gay men often would call their partners “roommates” just like Bert and Ernie were on the show. When asked if the characters were gay, this was Gary Knell’s response:

‘They are not gay, they are not straight, they are puppets,’ says Sesame Workshop President and CEO Gary Knell. ‘They don’t exist below the waist.’

They noted that they shared everything together, including a bedroom and did everything together—often times this was read in between the lines as a committed monogamous homosexual relationship. Back in 2013, The New Yorker put Bert and Ernie on the cover with Ernie’s head on Bert’s shoulder while watching T.V.—some believe the cover is a statement on the Supreme Court’s Defense of the Marriage Act (which has since been overturned by the 2015 5-4 Supreme Court vote that made gay marriage legal in all 50 states).

Jack Hunter is credited with creating the image.

“It’s amazing to witness how attitudes on gay rights have evolved in my lifetime,” Hunter said. “This is great for our kids, a moment we can all celebrate.” In 2011, there was a petition created online encouraging the show’s creators to have Bert and Ernie wed called Let Bert & Ernie Get Married on Sesame Street.” It had over 5,800 signatures. The petition was part of change.org and stated, “In this horrid age of LGBTQ kids, taking their own lives and being beaten for who they are, need to know that they’re BEAUTIFUL.” Later the petition went on to state, “Although Sesame Street is not the only children’s multimedia educational marketing project, there are questions that blankets this entire awkward situation such as how many classic story characters have been created where the young character yearns nothing more than to be married for love and how many of them have been LGBTQ characters ?”

The show’s producers made a statement, pulling the overused card that the two are just “best friends.”

Their statement went on to say, “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 was very similar to one issued almost twenty years earlier back in the early 90’s that read, “Bert and Ernie, who’ve been on Sesame Street for 25 years, do not portray a gay couple, and there are no plans for them to do so in the future. They are puppets, not humans. Like all the Muppets created for Sesame Street, they were designed to help educate preschoolers.”

“Bert and Ernie are characters who help demonstrate to children that despite their differences, they can be good friends.”

A spokesperson for the show said that Sesame Street was not “consciously” trying to appeal to gay viewers. When talking about how gay actors have played some of the characters, the spokesperson said, “We’re always reached out to a variety of actors and athletes and celebrities to appear on the show, and our programming has always appealed to adults as much as children.”

For more information check out these articles from The Wall Street Journal and WCPO Cincinnati.

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