A decades-old controversy received additional fuel this week when a former “Sesame Street” writer confirmed he felt Bert and Ernie represented a same-sex couple on the children’s puppet show when he wrote them.
After Mark Saltzman’s remarks were published by Queerty, the show’s production company issued a statement once again asserting that the show’s puppet characters “do not have a sexual orientation” and were intended to represent a platonic relationship.
“As we have always said, Bert and Ernie are best friends,” Sesame Workshop wrote. “They were created to teach preschoolers that people can be good friends with those who are very different from themselves.”
Frank Oz, an early collaborator on the show and a creator of Bert and Ernie, also weighed in to deny the puppets were meant to be gay.
“It seems Mr. Mark Saltzman was asked if Bert & Ernie are gay,” he tweeted. “It’s fine that he feels they are. They’re not, of course. But why that question? Does it really matter? Why the need to define people as only gay? There’s much more to a human being than just straightness or gayness.”
It seems Mr. Mark Saltzman was asked if Bert & Ernie are gay. It's fine that he feels they are. They're not, of course. But why that question? Does it really matter? Why the need to define people as only gay? There's much more to a human being than just straightness or gayness.
— Frank Oz (@TheFrankOzJam) September 18, 2018
The comment earned widespread criticism among those who felt an identifiable same-sex couple on the show would be an important step toward inclusion.
Oz responded directly to many of those critics, offering his defense of maintaining the friendship Bert and Ernie were originally created to reflect.
Hmmm. This is confusing to me. It is not my opinion. It is fact. I created Bert. He is not gay. I have also written that I'm pleased people see in him something that gives them comfort and recognition. But that does not change the fact that he is not gay.
— Frank Oz (@TheFrankOzJam) September 19, 2018
You're saying it's "honest" to say that they are not gay. Isn't this writer being honest by saying that he wrote them as gay, bc he pulled real life experiences from his relationship w/ his partner? Whether or not you CREATED them as gay, when HE wrote them, he wrote them gay.
— 💬 (@_securus) September 18, 2018
As of Tuesday evening, the tweet containing Sesame Workshop’s original statement had been replaced by an update.
“Sesame Street has always stood for inclusion and acceptance,” the company wrote. “It’s a place where people of all cultures and backgrounds are welcome. Bert and Ernie were created to be best friends, and to teach young children that people can get along with those who are very different from themselves.”
Please see our most recent statement regarding Bert and Ernie below. pic.twitter.com/gWTF2k1y83
— Sesame Workshop (@SesameWorkshop) September 18, 2018
That statement earned some praise from those who felt the original statement was insufficiently inclusive.
Oz has continued to tweet on the topic, offering some additional context and revealing that he has learned some important lessons after hearing from those offended by his tone.
“Although it doesn’t matter to me if someone is gay or viewed as gay, I learned it does matter to a great many people who feel they are not represented enough,” Oz wrote. “The Tweet discussion was worth it for me to just learn that.”
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