The nonprofit organization behind the beloved children's show "Sesame Street" is weighing in on a question that has sparked debates for decades: Are Bert and Ernie a gay couple?
The answer: Nope, they're puppets, Sesame Workshop said in a statement Tuesday.
"As we have always said, Bert and Ernie are best friends," the statement said. "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 characteristics (as most 'Sesame Street' Muppets do), they remain puppets, and do not have a sexual orientation."
Hours later, the organization added: "'Sesame Street' has always stood for inclusion and acceptance. It's a place where 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 very different from themselves."
The comments came days after former "Sesame Street" writer Mark Saltzman gave a much different answer to the same question.
"I always felt that without a huge agenda, when I was writing Bert and Ernie, they were," Saltzman, who wrote for the show in the mid '80s through the late '90s, said in an article published Sunday by gay news site Queerty. "I didn't have any other way to contextualize them."
Saltzman said he drew from experiences with his own partner, Arnold Glassman, while writing some of the sketches. Glassman died in 2003.
"I don't think I'd know how else to write them but as a loving couple," Saltzman added.
Saltzman's comments quickly went viral on social media, drawing both praise and criticism.
Frank Oz, who created Bert, soon offered his own take.
"It seems Mr. Mark Saltzman was asked if Bert & Ernie are gay," Oz tweeted Tuesday afternoon. "It's fine that he feels they are. They're not, of course. 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."
"As a writer, you just bring what you know into your work," he told the Times.
"Somehow, in the uproar, that turned into Bert and Ernie being gay," he added. "There is a difference."
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