Editorial: Inclusivity in the Puppet World

You may have heard a tiny rumor through the grapevine over the past few decades that two legendary “Sesame Street” characters, Bert and Ernie, are gay.

The striped-sweater duo have stuck by each others’ sides since 1974, first appearing in a pilot episode for “The Muppets Show.”

Recently this debate has sparked quite a bit of conversation between two “Sesame Street” creators on whether or not the character duo were in a homosexual relationship.

In an interview with Queerty on Sunday, Mark Saltzman, writer for “Sesame Street,” revealed that he based his writing for Bert and Ernie off of his own 20-year relationship with film editor Arnold Glassman.

“That’s what I had in my life, a Bert-and-Ernie relationship. How could it not permeate?” Saltzman said.

Frank Oz, creator of Bert and Ernie, denied Saltzman’s claims on Twitter on Tuesday.

“It seems Mr. Mark Saltzman was asked if Bert and Ernie are gay. It’s fine that he feels they are. They’re not, of course,” Oz tweeted. “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.”

Over the years, there has been a push on the entertainment industry to become more inclusive to all persons. Whether it’s race, ethnicity, religion or disability, the need for the creation of real-life and fictional role models that don’t follow the white, cisgender able-bodied norm is quickly gaining traction.

One such groundbreaking role model for young children is Julia, the first autistic character on “Sesame Street” as a part of the “Sesame Street and Autism: See Amazing in All Children initiative. The character is performed by puppeteer Stacey Gordon, whose own son has autism.

What this boils down to is should the entertainment industry feel responsible to cater to every demographic to make them feel included? To be perfectly blunt ― yes.

So many different demographics of children have grown up with one common image/idea of the ideal role model in their lives. This can possibly cause dissociation from themselves and drive them away from embracing the unique individual they are.

By introducing characters with traits outside of the “societal norm,” children are able to connect to those role models and find acceptance within themselves.

Characters like Julia, or Doc McStuffins, a young black girl who dreams of being a medical doctor, can change the way children view themselves and urge them to see that no dream has a specific image of who can and cannot accomplish it.

Sesame Workshop issued a statement in regards to Saltzman’s comment about Bert and Ernie’s relationship.

“Sesame Street has always stood for inclusion and acceptance,” Sesame Workshop wrote on Twitter. “It’s a place where all 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 different from themselves.”

So what if Bert and Ernie were written to be gay? Sure they’re made up of felt and buttons, but to a child they are much more than that. They are best friends, counselors and role models to kids who might lack some of those people in their lives.

And to the young LGBTQ+ community, Bert and Ernie shine as a beacon of hope to show that they shouldn’t be ashamed of who they love.

Sesame Workshop already gives the muppets genders and ages, so why not sexual orientation?

At the end of the day ― love is love.

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