After decades of rumors and speculation, a writer for Sesame Street has confirmed that Bert and Ernie were indeed a couple.
In an interview with Queerty, Mark Saltzman explains that the two characters were based on his own relationship with his boyfriend of 20 years Arnold Glassman, a film editor who passed away in 2003.
Ok, so we have to address—that’s the big question, right? In the writer’s room, you’re all adults. Were you thinking of Bert & Ernie as a gay couple? Did that question ever come up?
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?” And that, coming from a preschooler was fun. 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 & I as “Bert & Ernie.”
Case closed. Now how about Sesame Street make an openly gay character?
Sesame Street has a history of creating Muppets who reflect social and political issues of the times. Just last year, they introduced Julia, who’s autistic. They’ve also had international characters like Kami in South Africa who’s HIV-positive; an Arab Muppet named Mahboub who was introduced to ease tensions between Israelis and Palestinians; and Katie in Canada who’s wheelchair-bound.
The fact that Saltzman had to be subversively progressive speaks to the pervasive homophobia of the ’70s and ’80s. However, it’s 2018 and there’s no telling how much of a positive impact an openly gay or trans Muppet could have on young children.