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Ramon Johnson

Bert and Ernie aren't golf buddies

By August 15, 2011

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Do puppets need love, too? An online petition wants Sesame Street's 40-year best friends and roommates to come out and get married.

The petition was started by equal rights organization Change.org and at the writing of this article has nearly 9,000 signatures. "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, as Christine's song goes," reads the petition. The attention the petition has gotten on Twitter (#BertandErnie) and Facebook has has sparked a fierce debate amongst adults.

Let Bert and Ernie Come Out

The long time companions aren't merely puppets. They represent, as Sesame Street's furries always have, an image of American culture. For over four decades the couple has lived in the same apartment, shared their lives, side-by-side beds, and their A-B-C and 1-2-3s. Even decades ago when the couple was introduced, the idea of "best friends" living and sharing like Bert and Ernie do only had one spelling: G-A-Y. Then, that was the way of expressing their same-sex relationship. Today it's time to put the pink elephant to rest. Bert and Ernie should be outed for what they really are: Not golf buddies, but partners.

They're BFF's. Period.

Opponents to Bert and Ernie's union are quick to cite Seseme Street's demographic, 3 and 4-year olds, as the reason why Bert and Ernie should stay BFFs. Writers, like Lana Sweeten-Shults at TimesRecordNews argue that are children aren't ready to hear about sexuality and sexual orientation.

"Suggesting that 'Sesame Street' introduce (or in this case, reintroduce) a gay couple to help gay and lesbian children feel good about themselves is insane, since I doubt many of the 'Sesame Street' audience is gay," Sweeten-Shults writes.

"Can you spell r-i-d-i-c-u-l-o-u-s?" Sweeten-Shults continues. I commend Sweeten-Shults on her spelling, but what's insane are her assumptions about SS's audience and blatant homophobia. She does a disservice to Sesame Street, a program that's always helped our young people absorb diversity as well as the alphabet.

Are toddlers ready to hear about sex and sexuality? That's a question that can't be ignored. Are they ready to start learning that parents come in many shapes, shades, sizes, and orientations? You bet your phonics!

"Gay" is no longer in the closet, like Bert and Ernie's relationship has been in the past. Not to mention same-sex relationships are as commonplace as the letters and numbers we sing. There's no mistaking the prevalence of gay discussions in all cultural forums and our awareness of diversity transcends age floors. Whether children learn about gay and lesbian couples on Sesame Street or on the street is the question. I'd rather they learn about such topics in the responsible space that is Sesame Street.
Should Bert and Ernie Marry?

"No, they are Muppets. Other than Kermit and Ms Piggy have any Muppets gotten married or ever had any hint of a romance displayed? Do we know the marital status of any of the characters of Sesame Street? When I was a kid we didn't. Trying to marry off two Muppets to make a statement is not going to effect the desired result..."

"Just because they were never intended to be gay 40 years ago when showing such a thing was inconceivable doesn't mean the characters can't evolve with the times. I say let Bert and Ernie marry or put Miss Piggy in a pantsuit and elect her to Congress, but you can't have it both ways..." Join the debate
August 15, 2011 at 7:46 am
(1) JJ says:

It’s okay to have a female character constantly obsessing on and harassing a male character (Ms. Piggy’s constant display of raging sexuality) but NOT to have a couple happily married? Strange.

August 15, 2011 at 7:58 am
(2) JustMe says:

Regardless of whether or not a gay couple is appropriate for Sesame Street, the idea of making Bert and Ernie gay after so many years is just forcing ideas down other people’s throats. Yeah, there are folks in the closet a long time. But we can’t ask for tolerance if we aren’t tolerant of others. Just because two people are roommates doesn’t meant they are partners anymore than it means they aren’t. Trying to force people still struggling with the idea of openly gay couples to make their childhood icons something they were never intended to be only hurts the cause. If there is to be a gay couple on Sesame Street it needs to be new characters.

August 17, 2011 at 4:23 pm
(3) Matthew says:

Well, I was going to say what I thought, Then I see that “JustMe” has already said what I would have said anyway. So–totally agree—and ditto!

August 15, 2011 at 10:32 am
(4) Rain says:

I think that is Sesame Street wants to show parents of all backgrounds, they need to come up with a new pair of characters, or celebrity walk-ons that display the idea. There are kids out there with two same-sex parents that would benefit from this kind of thing. But Bert and Ernie? They aren’t exactly the parental type.

On Sesame Street, you have people/Muppets who are reflections of adults (Gordon, Mumford the Magician, Oscar, the newscaster guy) , and then those that are reflections of children (Elmo, Big Bird, Snuffy). I could be wrong, but I think Bert and Ernie fall into the latter category. They are characters that are more on the ‘learning with you’ side than the ‘here, let me teach you’ side.

I think it would be GREAT if, say, the guys from Modern Family came on as their characters and talked about how they are both dads to the baby they adopted, and how some kids have two daddies. Or Melissa Etheridge and Tammy Lynn Michaels can come on with their twins. This would show what kids need to see at that early stage of life: Adult relationships come in all forms, and so do parents.

It’s about identifying with the kids, and at a child’s level, same-sex marriage concepts would apply only to same-sex parents and adult characters. Bert and Ernie have trouble tying their shoes half the time. I wouldn’t want to identify my dad with either of them. Bert and Ernie ARE the kids, not the grown-up example for kids.

I’m all for a same-sex couple on Sesame Street, but Bert and Ernie have a maturity level just a few clicks higher than Elmo.

August 15, 2011 at 10:38 am
(5) Megan Romer - World Music says:

For them to come out of the closet would be to unnecessarily resolve one of the best sources of mystery and sexual tension on television. Don’t kill the spark, Sesame Street!

August 15, 2011 at 12:21 pm
(6) Larry West says:

I don’t have any problem with Bert and Ernie being gay, but neither do I think it’s a given that they are. I’ve personally known two different sets of friends–one male, one female–who lived together for many years and shared their lives in much the same way that Bert and Ernie do.

One of the men was gay, the other wasn’t. Neither of the women was gay. They were devoted friends, and when their earlier life plans didn’t work out, they came together to create a new family, but sex wasn’t part of the equation. At least not sex with each other.

Trying to redefine a long-term friendship as “gay,” based solely on the living arrangement and emotionally intimacy of the friends, is no better than homophobia. People should be allowed to live as they choose without anyone trying to push them into a box or slap a label on them.

Given the long run Bert and Ernie have had as buddies on Sesame Street, I think we should let them continue in that relationship. If the program chooses to include some new characters who are gay, that’s would be fine, although it would almost guarantee a new GOP assault on funding for public broadcasting.

If gay characters do become part of the cast, it should be done with a light touch. Sesame Street is for preschoolers and early elementary school kids. The program has never been heavy-handed about the life lessons it teaches, and it shouldn’t change that approach now.

August 15, 2011 at 1:59 pm
(7) Kallie says:

I like the idea of adding a couple of new characters who are specifically introduced as a same-sex couple.

Bert and Ernie do seem too child-like to be sexually active, to me.

August 15, 2011 at 2:10 pm
(8) Sukhmandir Kaur says:

I watched plenty of Sesame street with my kids while they were growing up. I’ve also have met quite a number of like gender oriented people. It has never occurred to me that Bert and Ernie might be a couple, I think it qualifies as an “eye of the beholder” issue. Really depends on the mindset of the viewer. And besides, I don’t think it’s anyone’s business other than the people involved, or in this case muppet’s involved. In my particular circle, everyone is considered a brother or sister and you’d have to know someone very well before you ever find out who their marriage partner is, or if they are kids, who both their parents are even. It’s just not something that comes up or comes out casually. Unless you have been to the wedding, you’d probably have to be invited to their home to put them together as a married couple. It’s like what goes on behind closed doors stays behind closed doors.

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