Bert and Ernie Are Finally Out of the Closet! (Sort Of...)

Bert and Ernie at the Tournament Of Roses Parade, back in 2005.  (Matthew Simmons/ Getty Images)

The rumors about Bert and Ernie have persisted for decades—after all, they have been cohabiting for nearly 50 years at this point. And while the answer to the "are-they" or "aren't-they" questions has always seemed pretty obvious, we finally have a reasonably solid confirmation that Bert and Ernie are gay. Hurray!

The life partners were just outed by Sesame Street writer, Mark Saltzman, who told Queerty that the dynamic between Bert and Ernie was based on his own decades-long relationship with film editor, Arnold Glassman.

"I was Ernie," Saltzman says. "I was the jokester... 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. Arnie’s OCD would create friction with how chaotic I was, and that’s the Bert & Ernie dynamic… That’s what I had in my life, a Bert and Ernie relationship. How could it not permeate?"

The revelation is in direct contradiction to sporadic denials issued over the years. In 1993, the Children’s Television Workshop said that “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.”

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The Sesame Street Workshop also released a statement in 2011 that stated: "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."

'The New Yorker', July 8 & 15, 2013.

A 2013 New Yorker cover, drawn by Jack Hunter, disagreed. Featuring Ernie and Bert snuggling in front of the TV, the art was intended to celebrate the Supreme Court striking down the Defense of Marriage Act that had been a bar to the rights of same-sex couples since 1996. Some were more thrilled than others. Slate at the time declared the cover "a terrible way to commemorate a major civil rights victory."

Regardless, Bert and Ernie have been used as shorthand for same-sex marriage before same-sex marriage was even legal. In 2011, Family Guy blended Sesame Street with a police procedural, and the gritty result finally depicted Bert and Ernie sharing one bed. A year later, The Simpsons did something similar, depicting Bert and Ernie in a gay bar. And in 2014, Modern Family's gay couple, Cam and Mitch, compared themselves to Bert and Ernie.

This morning, the Sesame Workshop issued yet another denial, then deleted it in favor of this more gently worded tweet:

Given Saltzman's heart-warming reasons for developing these characters in the 1980s to resemble his own real-life relationship, and given the obvious need for more representation of LGBT people in children's educational materials, we can't help but want to believe Saltzman's version of events and be done with it.

With that in mind, here's wishing Bert and Ernie another 49 years of happiness together!

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An earlier version of this story featured a Sesame Workshop tweet that was later deleted. Their updated statement has been added in its place. 

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