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Are Bert and Ernie Gay? Show Writer Clarifies Controversial Comments

Photograph by Georg Wendt/Epa/REX/Shutterstock

The decades-long debate about whether or not Bert and Ernie are a gay couple reached a fever pitch yesterday. Headlines and social media posts all over the internet exclaimed that the "Sesame Street" icons finally came out of the closet and were officially a couple.

The fervor was sparked by a Queerty interview with former "Sesame Street" writer Mark Saltzman that was published over the weekend.

In the interview, Saltzman was asked whether he was "thinking of Bert and Ernie as a gay couple," to which he responded, "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. The other thing was, more than one person referred to Arnie (Saltzman's partner) and I as 'Bert and Ernie.'"

Saltzman further explained that he and Arnold Glassman, who died in 2003, had "a Bert and Ernie relationship." One was a jokester, the other more serious and organized. Both characters would be ticked off by different things.

"I don’t think I’d know how else to write them, but as a loving couple," he said.

Outrage, glee and confusion ensued. Some argued that it's important to let children know they belong in the world. Others said that all kids need to learn from the TV show is "shapes and numbers" instead of pushing "an agenda."

Sesame Workshop, which produces "Sesame Street," quickly issued a statement that the pair are best friends, and as they are puppets, they "do not have a sexual orientation."

Photograph by Twitter

Many people didn't take the statement so well.

The nonprofit then updated its statement hours after posting it on Twitter to say that "'Sesame Street' has always stood for inclusion and acceptance."

Photograph by Twitter

Even Frank Oz, who helped create Bert and Ernie, and is the voice of dozens of puppets and muppets, jumped into the conversation to say that the duo aren't gay. "But ... does it really matter? Why the need to define people as only gay?" he asked on Twitter.

The absoluteness of his comments prompted people to share why it hurt to see voices shutting down the possibility of Bert and Ernie being a couple. After much debate, Oz acknowledged that whether or not Bert and Ernie are gay does matter to people who feel they aren't represented enough.

Saltzman himself then clarified to the New York Times last night that his comments from the interview were misinterpreted and that, though quite opposite, Bert and Ernie are "two guys who love each other." He didn't restrict them to one, or any, sexual orientation. And he was initially describing how he and his partner were like Bert and Ernie, who are examples of love in the show.

“Somehow, in the uproar, that turned into Bert and Ernie being gay," he said. “There is a difference."

Whether you see Bert and Ernie as partners, best friends or brothers, it's clear from the fiery debate that the two characters aren't just any one person's creation, and their identities are certainly not limited to one person's interpretation. Like Saltzman told the New York Times, "It’s like poetry. It’s what you need it to be."

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