Children’s shows are now unafraid to tackle LGBTQ+ themes. Cartoon Network’s Steven Universe has the entire Crystal Gems and Nickelodeon’s Legend of Korra brought us the first bisexual main hero in PG cartoons.
Gender and sexual representation now exist in PG programming. So when Sesame Street released a press statement alluding to Bert and Ernie’s sexuality, two questions arise. First: “Wait, Bert and Ernie are gay?” And next: “Why is this… a big thing?”
The furor began when ex-“Sesame Street” writer Mark Saltzman revealed to Queerty he based the puppets on his relationship with his partner. “That’s what I had in my life, a Bert-and-Ernie relationship. How could it not permeate? The things that would tick off Ernie would be the things that would tick off Bert,” he explained in the interview.
“I don’t think I’d know how else to write them, but as a loving couple,” — Mark Saltzman, ex-“Sesame Street” writer
Sesame Workshop was quick to release a press statement denying claims of the two characters being a gay couple.
“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,” their statement read in their tweet.
Now that this is settled, let’s answer the other question. Why does it matter if Bert and Ernie are gay?
Sesame Street has made feats to tell children that the world is more diverse than it is and it’s not all black and white. That’s the truth of the human condition after all. This makes the “puppets, not humans” excuse of the showrunners lazy.
Bert and Ernie being a gay couple doesn’t matter, but having an LGBTQ+ friendly dialogue in the show does.
A ‘90s episode inspired a dialogue against racism. In the show’s South African version, an HIV positive character was introduced in 2006. And two years ago, they created Julia, the show’s first autistic character.
Bert and Ernie being a gay couple doesn’t matter. But having a LGBTQ+ friendly dialogue in the show does. Maybe the showrunners just don’t want to force a storyline. Though we can’t deny that this serves as a wake up call that a LGBTQ+ friendly representation is what the show needs.
This children’s program will always be a champion for diversity and helping children understand life a bit better. Normalizing LGBTQ+ themes should be the next step that Sesame Street makes. And it doesn’t matter if it’s with Bert and Ernie or some new characters.
They are puppets and not humans—but they show the human condition as it is. Bert and Ernie may not be the gay couple we want. Though their relationship sparked a much-needed dialogue in children’s programming.
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