It turns out that Bert and Ernie's sexuality is in the eye of the beholder, according to "Sesame Street" Executive Vice President Brown Johnson, who recently said that the classical duo are indeed gay — if that is how one likes to view them.
Speaking with The Hollywood Reporter to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the iconic puppet show, Johnson said that people can believe Bert and Ernie are gay or straight.
“People can think whatever they want," he said. "You want to think they’re gay? OK."
"You want to think they’re not gay? They’re not gay," Johnson added.
Ever since the iconic show came onto the scene in 1969, mystery has always swirled around whether or not Bert and Ernie were a homosexual pair, being that they shared a basement apartment — though slept in separate beds — on 123 Sesame Street. The controversy reached a fever pitch in September 2018, when former "Sesame Street" writer Mark Saltzman, an openly gay man, said he wrote Bert and Ernie as a gay couple, using for inspiration his own relationship at the time with film editor Arnold Glassman.
"I remember one time a preschooler [in San Francisco] turned to her mum and asked, 'are Bert and Ernie lovers?' and that, coming from a preschooler, was fun," Saltzman told Queerty. "That got passed around, and everyone had their chuckle and went back to it.
"And I always felt that without a huge agenda, when I was writing Bert and Ernie, they were," he continued. "I didn’t have any other way to contextualize them."
As to which puppet Saltzman intended himself to be, the writer fancied himself as Ernie, with his partner Glassman as Bert.
"I was Ernie," he said. "I look more Bert-ish. And Arnie as a film editor — if you thought of Bert with a job in the world, wouldn’t that be perfect? Bert with his paperclips and organization? And I was the jokester. So, it was the Bert and Ernie relationship, and I was already with Arnie when I came to Sesame Street."
"So I don’t think I’d know how else to write them, but as a loving couple," he concluded. "I wrote sketches ... Arnie’s OCD would create friction with how chaotic I was. And that’s the Bert and Ernie dynamic."
Saltzman's comments were immediately rebuked by "Bert" creator Frank Oz, who said on Twitter: "It seems Mr. Mark Saltzman was asked if Bert & Ernie are gay. 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."
Oz's refutation of Saltzman's claims did not exactly sit well with some of his Twitter followers, who said he shamed LGBTQ people by not letting them believe that Bert and Ernie swing for their team.
"Why the need to define people as gay? Uh, because we exist. I’m gay. 100% gay," said one follower. "Always have been, always will be. I’ve known since I was 7, and was told what the word meant. Yes, there are a lot of bi and pan people out there, but there are also A LOT of gay people.”
"Sesame Street" was a bit more diplomatic when responding to Saltzman's claims, saying that the puppet duo were written as friends to teach children about getting along with another's differences.