Sesame Street reiterated Tuesday that two of the show’s most beloved characters, Bert and Ernie, are merely “best friends” and not a same-sex couple, the same day a former writer said his words were misinterpreted when he hinted the puppets were lovers, an idea that divided the internet.
On Tuesday afternoon, the educational show released a series of statements clarifying the relationship between two fictional characters.
“As we have always said, Bert and Ernie are best friends. They were created to teach preschoolers that people can be good friends with those who are very different from themselves,” the show said. “Even though they are identified as male characters and possess many human traits and characteristics (as most Sesame Street Muppets™ do), they remain puppets, and do not have a sexual orientation.”
The statement comes after former script and songwriter Mark Saltzman said in an interview published on Sunday that he had written Bert and Ernie as lovers.
“I always felt that without a huge agenda, when I was writing Bert and Ernie, they were,” Saltzman told LGBTQ website Queerty.
Saltzman said he wrote the scripts for the puppets as a “loving couple” inspired by his own relationship with his then-partner Arnold Glassman.
“I didn’t have any other way to contextualize them,” Saltzman said of the puppets.
However, the writer who worked on Sesame Street for nearly 15 years, said Tuesday his comments were misinterpreted.
“As a writer, you just bring what you know into your work,” Saltzman told the New York Times. “Somehow, in the uproar, that turned into Bert and Ernie being gay. There is a difference.”
Saltzman told the newspaper that while he did not restrict the puppets to a specific sexual orientation, he feels that the show should include a gay couple, but in human form, not puppets.
However, Saltzman said Bert and Ernie are “two guys who love each other. That’s who they are.”
In a second statement, Sesame Street said the show has “always stood for inclusion and acceptance.”
“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,” Sesame Workshop said.
The puppets have long been speculated to be a same-sex couple, and Bert and Ernie have been an icon in the LGBTQ community. It seems with the recent speculation about the pair, the idea has split people into separate factions: those who support it, those who don’t support it, and those who can’t even believe this is a topic for discussion.
“There’s an actual active discussion about puppet sexual orientation on Twitter,” reads a comment.
“How utterly sad it is that a statement such as this had to be issued,” reads another.
“It’s about representation. Children from a young age need to know that there are other orientations besides being heterosexual,” a comment reads.
“All children need to know at the age they would watch Sesame Street is numbers, shapes and letters,” another chimed in.