Arts & Culture

A case for the FBI: The sexual orientation of Bert and Ernie

Kailey James, Staff Writer

In a recent interview, Mark Saltzman, a former writer on “Sesame Street” from 1985 to 1998, revealed that the characters Bert and Ernie were actually lovers on the show. In his interview with the queer culture blog “Queerty,” he discussed that he reflected the characters after himself and his partner.

He stated that he had no other way to contextualize them other than as lovers. A Twitter response to the “Sesame Street” interview was: “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 … they remain puppets and do not have a sexual orientation.”

This incited backlash, with people upset that “Sesame Street” seemed to always have a wide range of heteroromantic relationship, and with this statement they were erasing a past of a queer identity. An additional statement released after this backlash occurred argued that Bert and Ernie are just friends. Regardless your opinion on this or “Sesame Street” in general, the program has continued to promote diversity and inclusion. In the ‘70s, they normalized public breastfeeding and featured a boy with down syndrome, and more recently introduced a character that has autism. Episodes in the ‘80s discussed adoption and death. Even in the ‘90s they tackled racism head on. A HIV-positive character was introduced in 2006. More recently, they have introduced an Afghan puppet, a character who promotes girls rights.

I had previously thought Bert and Ernie were closeted homosexuals. It seems toxic to assume that male best friends living together are gay, however research showed signs pointing to the fact that they were gay. For example, they shared a bedroom. It felt weird for me to assume that since these guys shared a bedroom that they were all of sudden partners. The setting of “Sesame Street” is in New York, and we all know that it is not cheap out there. There is nothing wrong with the idea that perhaps Bert and Ernie are lovers. It’s important for children to see love in all ways. In the show’s history, they have used examples of heterosexual “couples,” so it’s not out of the realm of possibilities given their progressive past. Children growing up mostly see couples only as male and female, so only positive things can come from inviting homosexual couples into their programming. If it wasn’t Bert and Ernie, they could introduce new gay characters. I think the message “Sesame Street” should have put out there is that the characters are meant to be whatever you perceive them to be.

This article first appeared in the Friday, September 28 edition of The Echo.