Are Bert and Ernie Gay?

An online petition sure wants the world to think so

What message should we send to kids about being gay? (photo by ThinkStock)

For many kids growing up, Bert and Ernie have been friendly figureheads – albeit puppets – that always seemed to be able to carry a tune and solve even the silliest of roommate debacles on Sesame Street. Who didn’t love Bert’s paper clip collection or Ernie’s ode to his beloved rubber ducky? But if a petition on has its way, the longtime friends could be outed as, gasp, gay!

“It’s important for our children to be educated that it’s okay to be gay,” says the petition. “For over 40 years, our beloved Sesame Street characters, Bert and Ernie, have been living as “roommates” and we would like PBS and Sesame Street to allow them to live as a gay couple and maybe, eventually, marry.”

Before any hardcore Sesame Street fans (of all ages) get “too” upset about the would-be outing of these felt-faced friends, consider that the gay puppets from Avenue Q recently tied the knot as a statement about gay marriage being legalized in New York. Proponents of same-sex marriage say that there’s no better way to teach kids that being gay is “a-okay” and that homophobia and bullying someone because of their sexual orientation isn’t very neighborly than by outing these famous puppets.

As of this week the petition has gathered some steam, with hundreds of supporters signing their names.

“It would show children and their parents that not only is it acceptable but also teach children that homophobia is wrong, bullying is wrong,” the petition goes onto say, ” and that Sesame Street should recognize that there are LGBT relationships, families and include them in their show.”

The children’s show has long introduced characters that teach viewers about differences, including a character with HIV, another in a wheelchair and someone with Down’s syndrome.

But the New York Daily News does not agree with this latest campaign by gay activists. In an editorial this week, the newspaper called the request “absurd” – as absurd as Cookie Monster suddenly touting the virtues of eggplant, they say. “The agitators would do well to remember that Jim Henson created Bert and Ernie to be friends who live cozily together with no deeper feelings woven into their felt than love of rubber ducky,” the editors write.

Are they right? Is outing Bert and Ernie really the best way to teach kids about different families? Or might it make more sense to introduce a new character (who’s gay) and who can teach folks that it really is okay to be gay – or felt – or even purple in this fictional New York City neighborhood? The characters do, after all, seem to come in all the colors of the rainbow.

Here’s a clip of Ernie trying to get Bert to exercise (oh, couplehood):