Are Bert and Ernie gay? It’s a question that viewers have been asking since Sesame Street premiered back in 1974. The idea that these inseparable roommates are more than friends has been a longtime rumor among fans, to the point where the mysterious nature of their relationship was even parodied in Avenue Q. However, it was widely assumed that viewers would never get a definitive answer on the sexual orientation of TV’s most beloved odd couple but that all changed when Mark Saltzman, who joined Sesame Street as a writer in 1984, admitted in an interview with Queerty that Bert and Ernie were a couple and, in fact, had been modeled after his own relationship with film editor Arnold Glassman.
“I remember one time that a column from The San Francisco Chronicle, a preschooler in the city turned to mom and asked ‘are Bert & Ernie lovers?'” Saltzman told Queerty. “And that got passed around, and everyone had their chuckle and went back to it. And I always felt that without a huge agenda, when I was writing Bert & Ernie, they were. I didn’t have any other way to contextualize them. The other thing was, more than one person referred to Arnie [Saltzman’s partner at the time] & I as ‘Bert & Ernie.'”
Case closed, right? Not so fast. While this certainly suggests that Bert and Ernie were inspired by a real-life couple, Sesame Workshop released a statement denying that Saltzman’s assertion is canonical.
“They were created to teach preschoolers that people can be good friends with those who are very different from themselves. 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.”
Please see our statement below regarding Bert and Ernie. pic.twitter.com/6r2j0XrKYu
— Sesame Workshop (@SesameWorkshop) September 18, 2018
The statement mirrors what producers said back in 2011, implying that none of the puppets who occupy Sesame Street have any interest in boning each other, regardless of gender, size, or species. Some might argue that the relationship between Kermit and Miss Piggy or Gonzo’s insatiable lust for chickens proves that sexual orientation exists in the Henson puppet universe but it’s tough to argue against the company that literally creates the show in question.
So what does all of this mean? At the moment, it’s not entirely clear. While some will take Sesame Workshop’s statement as the final word on the matter, others will surely believe that the show is merely trying to avoid controversy by denying Saltzman’s confirmation of one of the most beautiful and pure representations of the LGBT community in the history of television. At the end of the day, the fact that these are two inanimate objects means there is no real answer but that doesn’t make it any less fun to wildly speculate.