Why, Sesame Street? Why? After longtime staffer Mark Saltzman told Queerty that he’d always written Bert and Ernie as gay, the venerable educational show for kids didn’t respond, “Of course they’re a couple — who else would quarrel like that?” or even, “Viewers can ascribe to the roomies whatever qualities they feel best fit them.”
Instead, it pointed out in a statement that the beloved characters “are identified as male… and possess many human traits,” then discounted them as puppets who, as such, “do not have a sexual orientation.” (Which must have come as quite a shock to Kermit the Frog.) Frank Oz, who voices Bert, went so far as to ask, “Does it really matter?”
Here’s the thing, Frank: Yes, it matters. Especially in 2018, it matters a whole helluva lot. Sesame Street, known for its inclusiveness, had a chance to say, “Yep, Bert and Ernie are gay. So what?” It had a chance to say that gay people, like people of different races, people who use wheelchairs, people with Down syndrome, people who are HIV-positive, are just people. We’re not freaks, we’re your bickering neighbors. Different, maybe, but wrong? Nah.
Here’s the other thing, Frank: Per The Trevor Project, “LGB youth seriously contemplate suicide at almost three times the rate of heterosexual youth.” What do you think it would do for those kids if the TV show that they — and, perhaps more importantly, their friends and classmates — grew up watching sent the message that being gay is like being left-handed or being blonde? What would it do for those kids, Frank, if that ceased to be a reason for them to feel “other,” if that ceased to be a reason that their peers could make them feel so “other” that they considered killing themselves?
That was the teaching opportunity that Saltzman’s interview, perhaps inadvertently, handed Sesame Street, and the show blew it. Badly. What do you think? Shouldn’t the chance to embrace diversity, as Sesame Street has done so many times in the past, have been seized?