Rumors have long circulated that Ernie and Bert are a gay couple as seen on Sesame Street. Sesame Workshop disavows these rumors and points out that Ernie and Bert are puppets, not humans; the Workshop's official position, therefore, is that Muppet characters Ernie and Bert are simply good friends. Advocates of this position note that Ernie and Bert's bedroom contains two single beds rather than one larger bed.
“Bert and Ernie conduct themselves in the same loving, discreet way that millions of gay men, women and hand puppets do. They do their jobs well and live a splendidly settled life together in an impeccably decorated cabinet.”
—The Real Thing by Kurt Andersen, 1980
“Bert and Ernie are two grown men sharing a house and a bedroom. They share clothes, eat and cook together and have blatantly effeminate characteristics. In one show Bert teaches Ernie how to sew. In another they tend plants together. If this isn't meant to represent a homosexual union, I can't imagine what it's supposed to represent.”
—Reverend Joseph Chambers radio show, 1994 
Note that no skit has ever shown either character sewing, wearing the other's clothing, or cooking. Ernie tends to his plants alone.
On October 24, 2010, the Los Angeles Times published an article about how some gay advocates believed that Sesame Street was intentionally appealing more to gay viewers. The article commented on a tweet posted by Bert in June of that year: "Ever notice how similar my hair is to Mr. T’s? The only difference is mine is a little more ‘mo,’ a little less ‘hawk.’" Although meant as a reference to the recent release of the feature film adaptation of The A-Team, some interpreted the tweet's timing (around the time of a number of gay pride celebrations) and the use of the word "mo" (which could be read as short for "homo") as a sly, under-the-table effective outing of Bert. Sesame Workshop denied that they were intentionally trying to reach a gay audience, stating that "the idea that anyone would interpret this season that way never crossed our minds."
Japanese Sesame Street Magazine
The official Japanese Sesame Street Magazine regularly featured artwork solicited from fans throughout the 1990s. In the middle of the decade, the magazine featured at least two instances of the pair as a wedding couple, both times with Ernie in drag, wearing a wedding gown:
In 2002, Sesame Workshop lawyers blocked further showings of the short film Ernest & Bertram by Peter Spears, in which a character based on Ernie confesses his romantic attraction to another character based on Bert.
Another Sesame Street takeoff, the 2003 Tony Award-winning Broadway musical Avenue Q, includes two puppet characters, Rod and Nicky, who bear a striking resemblance to Bert and Ernie. In the musical, Rod is an uptight Republican banker, who is secretly in love with his sloppy, over-enthusiastic straight roommate, Nicky. Several numbers during the show focus on Rod's feelings for Nicky, including "Fantasies Come True", in which Rod dreams that he and Nicky rise from their single beds to share a romantic dance. Several members of the original cast (including John Tartaglia, Stephanie D'Abruzzo and Rick Lyon) were puppeteers who had worked on Sesame Street, but the musical has no connection with the television show. Advertising and merchandise based on the show include a disclaimer: "Avenue Q has not been authorized or approved in any manner by the Jim Henson Company or Sesame Workshop, which have no responsibility for its content."
“Bert and Ernie, who've been on Sesame Street for 25 years, do not portray a gay couple, and there are no plans for them to do so in the future. They are puppets, not humans. Like all the Muppets created for Sesame Street, they were designed to help educate preschoolers. Bert and Ernie are characters who help demonstrate to children that despite their differences, they can be good friends.”
—Sesame Workshop's consumer response prepared statement, 1993.
“There is nothing going on with Bert and Ernie, but there's this whole culture out there that thinks they are gay. It's clearly something that adults are projecting onto these characters. What they are is friends. In fact, if you think about the fact they are Muppets, they don't even have an existence below the waist.”
—VP of Education and Research for CTW Rosemarie Truglio, 1998
“"They are not gay, they are not straight, they are puppets," says Sesame Workshop President and CEO Gary Knell. "They don't exist below the waist."”
—Sesame Street: A Celebration - 40 Years of Life on the Street (2009), p. 47.
“Bert and Ernie are best friends. They were created to teach preschoolers that people can be good friends with those who are very different from themselves. Even though they are identified as male characters and possess many human traits and characteristics... they remain puppets, and do not have a sexual orientation.”
—Sesame Workshop statement, August 11, 2011 (issued in response to a Change.org petition to have Bert and Ernie marry which circulated shortly after gay marriage was legalized in the state of New York)
“As we have always said, Bert and Ernie are best friends. They were created to teach preschoolers that people can be good friends with those who are very different from themselves. Even though they are identified as male characters and possess many human traits and characteristics (as most Sesame Street Muppets™ do), they remain puppets, and do not have a sexual orientation.”
—Issued via Facebook on September 18, 2018 in response to the frenzy created by major media outlets to a Queerty interview with Mark Saltzman who used the characters as analogs for his own relationship when writing them decades after their creation.
“Sesame Street has always stood for inclusion and acceptance. It's a place where people of all cultures and backgrounds are welcome. Bert and Ernie were created to be friends, and to teach young children that people can get along with those who are very different from themselves.”
—Issued via Facebook on September 18, 2018, following the release of the previous statement.
“People can think whatever they want [about Bert and Ernie]. You want to think they're gay? Okay. You want to think they're not gay? They're not gay.”
—Executive VP Brown Johnson, Variety, February 6, 2019.
“Someone who used to write for Bert and Ernie, who was gay himself [Mark Saltzman], said, "I always wrote for them as if they were gay." It was sort of an "aha moment", like "finally, we know the truth. Bert and Ernie are gay." And I regret how Sesame handled it at the time. [previous company statement]: "Even though they are identified as male characters and possess many human traits and characteristics... they remain puppets, and do not have a sexual orientation." And I think by saying that, it almost sounded like it would be something wrong with it if they were gay. If you relate to these characters as gay, that's fine, that's what makes Sesame so special. If you relate to them as not, that's fine. But, that denial, if you will, I think was a mistake.”
—Sesame Workshop President Sherrie Westin, 50 Years of Sunny Days.
- When Michael Davis, author of the 2008 book Street Gang, was asked, "What's the biggest misconception that people have about Sesame Street that you're hoping to dispel with this book?," Davis responded, "That Bert and Ernie are gay... Certainly they [Sesame Street cast members] played to that notion and laughed about it and enjoyed speculating about Bert and Ernie, but the truth is that those characters are a projection of the real-life friendship between Jim Henson and Frank Oz."
- Eric Jacobson to Vanity Fair, 2011:
- I’m sure you’re aware of the online movement this last summer to get Bert and Ernie married. Do you have an opinion about what did or didn’t or should’ve happened?
- [Long pause.] You’re going to have to talk to our P.R. department about that.
- But you’re the guy who plays Bert. You don’t have any thoughts about his sexual orientation?
- If you know the genesis of the characters, it’s an absurd idea. They’re like The Odd Couple. Just think of it like that. It’s Felix and Oscar from The Odd Couple. That’s what I believe the inspiration for Bert and Ernie was. If you look at the history, when the show first aired, that makes sense.
- "Hallo, wie wär's mit einem O?" (the German dub of "Would You Like to Buy an O?") also provided a reference to the pair's relationship on that country's version of the show: Lefty's lyrics at 0:45 are changed not only for rhyming's sake, but for comedic purposes as well. "So buy the O, and take it home tonight" turns into "Nun kauf schon, und schenk es Deiner Frau!," which translates to "Come buy it, and give it to your wife," to which Ernie quickly asks: "Bert?"
While the issue of Ernie and Bert's sexuality has never been addressed on screen, Sesame Street has made several references to the characters' interest in members of the opposite sex, on occasion.
- In 1978, Bert meets his feminine equal in Bertha, a young lady who appears in Episode 1207 and shares several interests with Bert. He even sings her "Bert's Love Song", which later appeared on the 1980 record album Love.
- Bert also sang a romantic sonnet for an unnamed girlfriend in "I Want to Hold Your Ear".
- In a 1981 Sesame Street Live Show, Ernie and Prairie Dawn sang "Don't You Know You're Beautiful?" to one another, and danced together under a romantic setting. The two were paired in another number, singing "Don't Be Afraid to Make Friends," in the next Sesame Street Live show.
- Betty Lou makes some flirtatious advances on Bert in an Ice Follies sketch, but Bert's responses indicate he's either oblivious or uninterested.
- In an archived interview with Ernie and Bert featured in the documentary 50 Years of Sunny Days, Ernie reads a fan letter inquiring if Bert has a girlfriend. Bert shies away while Ernie begins to mockingly chant, "Bert's got a girlfriend!"
- Bert appears as Prince Charming in a 1998 sketch, where he provides Sleeping Beauty with an enchanted kiss.
- In CinderElmo, both are hopeful that Princess Charming will pick one of them to marry. Bert notes that he's heartbroken at not being chosen to be her husband.
- In the "Mountain Climbers" episode of Bert and Ernie's Great Adventures, Bert gets a crush on Heidi.
- After sharing a scene on the set of Sesame Street with Count von Count in a 2020 video for Pop Americana, Sana Saeed claims she connected with Ernie on Bumble, a dating app that requires women to start the conversation after a mutual interest is initiated by two parties.
Parody and References
- Family Guy
- American Dad
- Robot Chicken
- Avenue Q
- Garfunkel and Oates
- Bernie und Ert
- Ernest & Bertram
- The Jay Leno Show
- RuPaul's Drag Race
- Daryl Cagle's 2003 editorial cartoon on gay marriage
- Matt Bors' 2011 newspaper cartoon
- Glee, Supernatural, The Colbert Report, Greg the Bunny, The King of Queens, The Simpsons, The Cleveland Show, and Medium Large have all made minor references.
- LGBT culture
- Tough Pigs - Muppet Sexuality
- Snopes.com Bert & Ernie's Relationship
- TV Guide Letter Column, 12/18-24/1993
- Answers.com Bert & Ernie
- Gay Today Quotes
- ABC Brisbane - Eric Jacobson interview
- "Bert & Ernie's Big Love", Jessica Max Stein (Richard Hunt's biographer) analyzes the controversy.
- Bunsen and Beaker's relationship
- Wolf, Buck "'Sesame Street' Threatens Lawsuit Over Gay Muppet Rumors" ABC News, April 9, 2002. Web. (Accessed 11/1/09.)
- Andersen, Kurt The Real Thing; Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1980.
- Maerz, Melissa. "Some 'Sesame Street' viewers sense a gay-friendly vibe." Los Angeles Times, October 24, 2010.
- Goodridge, Michael "The best films you can't see: Ernest & Bertram is the latest in a series of acclaimed queer films banned from public view because their makers stepped on some famous toes." The Advocate (The National Gay and Lesbian News Magazine), July 23, 2002. Web. (Accessed 10/31/09.)
- Wisconsin State Journal "Tour Opens Sesame on Campus" by William R. Wineke, September 25, 1998
- Oldenburg, Ann. "Marriage for Sesame Street pals Bert and Ernie?", USA Today. August 11, 2011.
- Sesame Workshop's Facebook, September 18, 2018
- Queerty "Are Bert & Ernie a couple? We finally have an answer…" by David Reddish, September 16, 2018
- Sesame Workshop's Facebook, September 18, 2018
- Felion, Marc; Fernós, Fausto "Sesame Street Cred" Feast of Fools, podcast #926, February 6, 2009. Web. (Accessed 12/29/09.)