Sesame Street creators are refuting a former writer's claim that Bert and Ernie are a gay couple.
The long-running TV show was forced to respond to the oft-discussed idea that the two puppets who share a home on Sesame Street are actually a couple after former writer Mark Saltzman said that he wrote them as a reflection of his own same-sex relationship during his 15-year tenure on the show.
In an interview with Queerty, Saltzman revealed that he regularly pushed for topics centered around the gay experience in the early '80s, as he was writing for the show in the midst of the AIDS crisis. "I can remember pitching to the education department, the gatekeepers of the curriculum, gay content, just to get it off my conscience," he said. "And I can remember being stonewalled in a way that it made me think it was a lost cause. My activism isn’t a hit the streets variety, and what Sesame Street was doing racially, you certainly don’t want to denounce it."
That lead the conversation to the two characters who fans have long theorized were in a romantic relationship and Saltzman said that, during his time on the show, he modeled Bert and Ernie on his own relationship with a long-term partner. "I always felt that without a huge agenda, when I was writing Bert and Ernie, they were. I didn’t have any other way to contextualize them," he said. "[My relationship] was the Bert and Ernie relationship, and I was already with Arnie when I came to Sesame Street. So I don’t think I’d know how else to write them, but as a loving couple."
The revelation has caused both Sesame Street spokespeople and long-time puppeteer Frank Oz to respond. "It seems Mr. Mark Saltzman was asked if Bert and Ernie are gay. It's fine that he feels they are," Oz said, according to TMZ. "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."
A spokesperson for the Sesame Workshop told the website Bert and Ernie 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," the spokesperson concluded.