Why Can’t Bert and Ernie Marry?

bert and ernie“Sesame Street’s” most famous duo, Bert and Ernie, first appeared in 1969, the same year as the Stonewall Riots, which to the nation’s surprise catapulted the LGBTQ Liberation Movement. And at that time, the idea of partnering these two lovable striped-sweater-wearing puppets as gay was as inconceivable as the idea of legalized same-sex marriage.

But four-plus decades later, with Bert and Ernie’s relationship outliving many heterosexual living arrangements―roommates or married―and mirroring the subtle ways in which lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBTQ) couples discreetly went about their lives back in the day, the question of whether the guys are gay is not only apropos, but so, too, is the question of their nuptials.

“They are not gay, they are not straight, they are puppets,” President and CEO of Sesame Workshop, Gary Knell said. “They don’t exist below the waist.”

The funny thing about the dominance of heteronormativity in society, I’ve learned as a lesbian, is that it is always assumed―whether it’s above or below the waists of people or puppets. And, oddly, heteronormativity is also assumed without questions, expected without exception, and explained even in its silence.

But Knell is not totally truthful in his rejoinder that the puppets are neither gay nor straight.

My favorite Jim Henson Muppet is the heterosexual over-the-top prima-Donna, femme fatale, and sex-siren Miss Piggy. And the love of her life, Kermit the Frog, unwittingly marries her in “The Muppets Take Manhattan.”

“Sesame Street” has always moved and grooved with the times, and its concept of “Muppet diplomacy,” a term coined to depict “Sesame Street’s” efforts to educate children around the world, has tackled tough social issues like HIV/AIDS, child obesity, 9/11 and military deployment, to name a few, and has danced and sang with mega rock stars and hip-hop artists like Bono, Beyonce, and Justin Beiber.

Is it possible that my “gaydar” is off about “Sesame Street”? Perhaps. But hasn’t “Sesame Street” over the years, in a tongue-in-cheek fashion, winked and nodded to the LGBTQ community?

For example, was it mere coincidence that during “Coming Out Month” of October 2010 African American lesbian comedian Wanda Sykes appeared on show? But Sykes is not the only openly LGBTQ person of appear on the show. Openly gay guest stars like Neil Patrick Harris played a “shoe fairy,” and will.i.am of the “Black Eyed Peas” sang “What I Am?,” a song about self- acceptance, creating an online kerfuffle about its underlying message.

Is it now time for “Sesame Street’s” under-the-radar winks and nods to the LGBTQ community be replaced with a full-throated statement of support?

“Sesame Street” has a long history of teaching children about diversity and acceptance; so why should the issues impacting our LGBTQ children be excluded? Moreover, many of the children watching the show are not only LGBTQ, but so, too, are their parents and households.

In other words, could it be that “Sesame Street” needs to come out of the closet?

bert and ernieIn many ways, their famous duo has. And Bert and Ernie have not only been roommates, but they have also been sleep-mates, sleeping next to each other like any long-term committed couple.

I realize, however, in a culture that constantly sexualizes the coupling of same-gender relationships as gay, we ignore our own friendships with our “best friends forever” (BFF), which is what producers of “Sesame Street” are stating about Bert and Ernie.

For example, for over two decades Oprah and her gal pal, Gayle King, editor-at-large for O, The Oprah Magazine, have denied rumors they are lesbians, but rather have publicly stated they are each other’s BFF, just two sistah-girls being sister-friends.

After 30 years of four-times-a-day phone calls, and frequent sightings of where you see Oprah you also see Gayle, the public continues to question Oprah and Gayle about their relationship.

“No, I’m not a lesbian, I’m not even kind of a lesbian,” Oprah stated on “A Barbara Walters Special: Oprah, The Next Chapter.”

“The reason why it irritates me is because it means that somebody must think I’m lying. That’s number one,” Winfrey told Walters. “Number two…why would you want to hide it? That is not the way I run my life.”

I also realize that in constantly labeling same-gender relationships as gay, it diminishes and distorts the romantic relationships we LGBTQ people have with our significant others. As a matter of fact, constantly labeling same-gender relationships as gay not only wrongly assumes that the only reason for two people of the same gender getting together is for sex, but it also keeps in place the myth of the hypersexual and predatory homosexual.

Rev. Irene MonroeHowever, “Sesame Street’s” is an open classroom for our kids, reflecting the times. Same-sex marriage is one of the social issues of the day.

How will “Sesame Street” explain to children in same-gender families and households why Miss Piggy and Kermit the frog can marry, but Bert and Ernie can’t?

Rev. Irene Monroe


  1. Clara says

    My younger siblings and my own children grew up watching Sesame Street. It is my opinion that issues were best faced and played out for them using both puppets and the human cast of characters. This is an issue that I feel should be played out gradually, using a new character who meets another character, forms a relationship over time, falls in love and then proposes marriage. It could be two women poets, two male artists or a cafe owner and a taxi driver, but please, human beings and not pieces of felt and cloth!

  2. says

    The author notes that “constantly labeling same-gender relationships as gay …wrongly assumes that the only reason for two people of the same gender getting together is for sex…”

    Yes. The mistaken and indiscriminate use of ‘gay’ in place of ‘same-gender’ is being used to distort all kinds of issues.

    We would-be defenders of human rights should not make this mistake ourselves. Rather, we should vociferously object when others make it.

    In particular it’s important to refer to ‘same-gender’ rather than ‘gay’ in regards MARRIAGE and the freedom of two people to have their partnership recognized with all the legal rights of MARRIAGE.

    The true and legal issue is the right to SAME-GENDER marriage, NOT ‘gay’ marriage.

    Marriage is a legally recognized partnership. It is NOT a condition for which one can legitimately pre-suppose for either partner (let alone for both partners) a presence or absence of given sexual activity or orientation or relationship.

    This situation has long been evident for marriages where the partners differ in gender. There is no reason now to tolerate propaganda against same-gender marriage which operates by foisting presumptions (sneakily conveyed by use of the phrase ‘gay marriage’) which anyhow clearly need not hold for marriages where partners differ in gender.

    The legal condition of marriage between A and B tells you NOTHING anything about presence or nature of sexual orientation, or presence or nature of sexual conduct, by either A or B. And even when there is sexual conduct by both A and B, one cannot presume that A and B are sexual partners: possibly A is active with C, not B; or possibly with both. And here both cases are possible: B and C may be of the same gender, or they may instead differ in gender.

  3. Venice08 says

    y’all added a Q to the LBGT thing just as I was getting used to the LGBT thing. What does that stand for?

    AlsoI really doubt there are that many T children watching SS to justify a change in programming. If so then I demand equal treatment for MIMES. Doesn’t everyone hate mimes undeservedly?

    Seriously, what up with the Q? and when did the word “heteronormativity” get invented? It’s not in the 2009 Webster’s or the online Webster’s. People want to be accepted as “normal” yet go out of their way to label themselves or try to hard to be different which if you have to try too hard is not really being true to who one really is.

    I think Ernie is really the macho ass slapper and Bert is the girlie boy.

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