How Sesame Street surrendered in the culture wars

The issue faded from the news until 2011, when an online petition called for the marriage of Bert and Ernie. The politically polarized debate over gay marriage taking place at the time forced Sesame Workshop to choose a side. A new statement repeated the talking point that Bert and Ernie were just friends and added, “Even though they are identified as male…they remain puppets, and do not have sexual orientation.” With this statement, the workshop clearly aligned with the right in its quest to deny Bert and Ernie’s orientation.

But this statement was disingenuous. It ignored that many puppets on “Sesame Street” could and did identify openly as straight and engage in loving relationships. Explicitly depicting heterosexual relationships between puppets and then denying the suggestion of a puppet having a homosexual orientation sent a pretty clear message. Sesame Workshop either did not believe it was appropriate for “Sesame Street” to include homosexual relationships, or at the very least, was unwilling to risk a backlash from conservative parents and activists by supporting such inclusiveness.