Are Sesame Street‘s Bert & Ernie gay?
When Sesame Street began shooting their test episodes in 1969, Bert & Ernie were among the first Muppets to appear. Decades later a controversy has captured the attention of the media, are Bert & Ernie gay?
One of Sesame Street’s writers Mark Saltzman, who wrote for the characters, said in an interview with Queerty this September, “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.” Saltzman has said that the relationship between Bert & Ernie was modeled after his relationship with his partner, Arnold Glassman. Glassman was a filmmaker who passed away in 2003.
The buzz about Bert & Ernie found its way to David Kilmnick. Kilmnick founded The LGBT Network 25 years ago. It started as a project when he was in graduate school at SUNY, NY. He put together a curriculum for the Long Island, NY school districts to talk to students about his experience being gay. He said no matter what the demographics were in the school district, he was always asked the same question, ”Where can I go to talk to someone who is like me?”
The LGBT Network is expanding its reach
25-years later, the LGBT Network is now comprised of a group of organizations serving the community. They have expanded beyond Long Island into the Borough of Queens, NY.
Kilmnick said there are 127 school districts on Long Island, of which his organization serves 110 of them. They now have 4 fully devoted LGBT community centers that provide health resources, education, arts and culture and advocacy. There are 250,000 people served in the LGBT community of all ages through the LGBT Network.
Kilmnick turned to the topic of Bert & Ernie and said the Muppets have a gender and are a family. He said they can “show children all across our country that they can have all different kinds of families, including same-sex families.”
Kilmnick said Bert & Ernie always seemed like a couple who have been together for a long time. Although they bickered, they have always been committed to staying together. Kilmnick said if Bert & Ernie had been openly gay, it could have been helpful for children to see a couple who was out and “not hidden.”
Kilnick feels there is more progress to be made
Kilmnick said although there has been progress on TV with including LGBT characters, there is still a long way to go. He also said it has to be a more accurate portrayal, not a stereotypical character. There has to be more LGBT visibility in the media. Kilnick said that “being Out & Proud is so freeing, ”…that it would help so many more people to see characters on TV living their lives that way.
Kilmnick also feels that with his experience working with children and the availability of resources such as his organization, they have a greater understanding of their sexuality at an earlier age. The visibility of the LGBT Network and like organizations encourages youth to come out earlier. It gives them a support system. He feels that more lives will be saved. Not just for the youth, but for their parents, a stronger community will be built.
Talking about the current political climate, Kilmnick said, “This is a wakeup call to our community. I grew up when coming out meant to get involved and fight for equality and safety and fairness. That fight is a lifetime fight, even when things are better we can never stop fighting. We will always have to do something as a collective effort as a nation. We have in our community a long history of being resilient even when we have suffered setbacks. We will overcome that.”
The LGBT Network is planning on having a big “Coming Out” party for Bert & Ernie where all children and families can celebrate. He said it will open the door for parents to have conversations with their children that there are all kinds of families. Kilmnick said that “if Muppets can come out and be gay, so can we. It will reflect the lives of so many Americans and is long overdue.”
For David Kilmnick, Bert & Ernie represent what the LGBT Network is all about, showing families that love comes in all ways.