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OAK PARK, Ill. (CBS) — The producers of “Sesame Street” said in a statement last week that Bert and Ernie have no sexual orientation, but a Chicago area activist’s petition continues to gather signatures calling for the Muppet characters to be married.
As of late Friday morning, a petition first posted by Lair Scott of Oak Park about two weeks ago had received 9,530 signatures.
The petition says given the abuse suffered by gay and lesbian children for who they are, and the fact that many LGBT youth have committed suicide over the bullying they have suffered, “Sesame Street” should take a stand.
“We are not asking that Sesame Street depict anything crude or disrespectful; this is NOT about any other issue other than education,” the petition says. “‘Sesame Street’ claims Bert and Ernie are only friends, though that’s how marriage begins, right?”
The petition asks why “Sesame Street” has not developed “contemporary LGBTQ puppets and human characters.”
“It would prove to past and current viewers that it’s spelled L-O-V-E, not H8,” the petition says.
But last week, the Sesame Workshop posted a response to the petitions, repeating an answer that has been issued numerous other times in response to questions about Bert and Ernie’s sexuality.
“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,” the workshop writes. “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.”
But the petition has remained online in the time since, and signers have questioned why Bert and Ernie cannot have a sexual orientation when other Muppet characters clearly do.
“The makers have stated that puppets have no sexual orientation, so why would it matter if Bert and Ernie got married?” one signer wrote on the petition on Wednesday. “Why were Miss Piggy and Kermit (of ‘The Muppets’) allowed to marry? Surely that is distasteful and classed as cross breeding?”
Scott also created a Facebook fan page in favor of Bert and Ernie getting married, which remained active as of Friday. But one post Friday morning that Scott planned to delete the page due to hostile comments that opponents were posting.
The Facebook page had more than 7,300 “likes” as of Friday.
While the Sesame Workshop and its precursor, the Children’s Television Workshop, have always maintained that Bert and Ernie are puppets with no sexual orientation, speculation on the subject goes back more than 30 years.
The Snopes Urban Legends Reference site points out that in the 1980 essay anthology The Real Thing, writer Kurt Anderson made a comical remark that “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.”
In the decades since, the rumor has drawn protests and even calls to have Bert and Ernie legally banned from the airwaves. But it has also been the subject of successful parodies – most notably the closeted gay puppet character Rod and his straight roommate Nicky in the Broadway musical “Avenue Q.”