Why Won't Sesame Street Let Bert & Ernie Be Gay?

Photo: Beth A. Keiser/AP/REX/Shutterstock.
The idea that Sesame Street's Bert and Ernie — the puppet "roommates," one squat and orange and one tall and yellow — are deeply, madly in love has always been so obvious to anyone in the queer community that it's basically fact. Based on hardcore subtext, Bert and Ernie are gay.
But their love has always just been subtext — until now. In a recent interview with LGBTQ+ website Queerty, former Sesame Street writer Mark Saltzman says that he wrote Bert and Ernie based on his own relationship with his long-time partner Arnold Glassman. "I always felt that without a huge agenda, when I was writing Bert & Ernie, they were [gay]. I didn’t have any other way to contextualize them," Saltzman told Queerty. He and Glassman had a Bert and Ernie-like relationship, he said. And since Saltzman and his partner had a similar dynamic (with Saltzman the lighthearted jokester and Glassman the more strict rule-follower), he couldn't help but use his own relationship to inspire Bert and Ernie in the skits that he wrote. "I don’t think I’d know how else to write them, but as a loving couple," he said.
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Of course, that doesn't mean that Bert and Ernie were always gay, or that any other person who wrote their scenes considered them a couple. The puppets were first thought-up by Jim Henson in 1969. Saltzman started writing Sesame Street episodes in 1984, so Bert and Ernie existed merely as roommates for at least 15 years.
Still, knowing that Saltzman envisioned Bert and Ernie as a loving gay couple could have been a moment of validation for gay men and other queer people who grew up with the beloved characters. But Sesame Street quickly did its best to shut any celebration down. The company behind the show tweeted a statement on Tuesday claiming that Bert and Ernie are nothing more than best friends, and were created to show preschoolers that people with totally different personalities could still get along.
The show also said that, "Even though they are identified as male characters and possess human traits and characteristics, they remain puppets, and do not have a sexual orientation." It'd be a totally valid argument, except that plenty of the other Sesame Street Muppets™ have a very clear sexual orientation. Who could forget how hard Miss Piggy lusted after Kermit? Or the fact that Elmo has a mom and a dad? Or what about that time Oscar The Grouch proposed to his girlfriend, Grundetta?
In that episode, Oscar defines marriage as, "you know...where we live together for our whole lives and maybe even have a family." With 48 seasons and counting as "roommates," Bert and Ernie have clearly gotten the live-together-forever part of that deal, but we're still supposed to believe that they're nothing more than close friends and roommates.
It seems that puppets are only allowed a sexuality when they're straight. It's disappointing for a show that has always been praised for its inclusivity to be so biased.
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