For more than 40 years our dear friends Bert and Ernie from Sesame Street have shared a living space as roommates. In that 40 years Bert and Ernie have taught us and are still teaching our children about friendship, sharing, caring, keeping promises, compromising, responsibility, healthy eating, exercise, how to spell, how to count, our colors, days of the week, months of the year, the difference between the truth and a lie, personal grooming, listening to authority, being the bigger person and a host of other things that are essential to the behaviors and education of your typical preschool aged child. Several individuals that make up the lesbian-gay-bisexual-transgender (LGBT) and also heterosexual communities think it might be a good idea if the LGBT community is represented in Sesame Street and the start of this should begin with the marriage of Bert and Ernie.
So why do people even believe Bert and Ernie are gay? Many groups speculate that Sesame Street writers have been subconsciously informing us of Bert and Ernie’s sexuality for over 40 years now. Their rationale being that the two characters live in the same house, don’t have girlfriends, share a bedroom albeit they sleep in separate beds and they have photo of the two of them on the wall in the center of their bedroom. Bert and Ernie hug a lot and sit very close, some would say uncomfortably close, when they read a story or do any other normal everyday activities. Probably their most compelling argument that Bert and Ernie are gay is the fact that Sesame Street has scenes on the show where one of the pair can be found taking a bath while the other or other residents of Sesame Street are in the bathroom/bathtub at the same time as Ernie.
Aside from the possibly of inference of homosexuality on Sesame Street there is currently a petition in place to get Sesame Street to allow Bert and Ernie to marry. The organizers of this petition feel that shows which demonstrate acceptance of the LGBT community could help young people deal with bullying, suicide and other issues that plague this community. Some members of the LGBT and heterosexual communities stress that non-traditional families need to be integrated into mainstream children’s educational programming as a means to help children and parents embrace LGBT persons as equals in society. They feel a depiction of LGBT characters could also encourage neutralization of homophobia and influence acceptance and tolerance of all people regardless of their sexual orientation. Additionally, I’ve read many comments from members of the LGBT community that insist they need to be positively represented and accepted in the media because they were born with genetic components that make them “this way” and therefore did not choose their sexual orientation. I just want to set the record straight, as a scientist with an emphasis in human and molecular genetics, that no such gene(s) have been discovered or published that predetermine or increase susceptibility to homosexual behavior.
Many people are outraged by this petition and to the possibility of a representation of Bert and Ernie as a gay couple. Many who are opposed feel that preschool age children are simply too young to learn about sexuality. Parents feel that they will be robbed of the opportunity to teach their own children about sexual preferences/lifestyles/determination in their own time. Many are just blatantly opposed to homosexuality and do not want to teach their children acceptance of a culture with which they do not agree. Some people feel a marriage between two male characters will plant seeds of sexual experimentation and exploration in young children who might otherwise not even be aware of sex. Many people feel that LGBTs are trying to force acceptance of their lifestyle and beliefs onto all the members of society and are robbing children of their innocence. Many members of the Christian and other religious communities feel that homosexual behavior is not normal or acceptable by God and therefore do not want to teach its acceptance to their children.
Shows like Sesame Street are publicly funded so we do have to consider that financial contributors might have a say as to the type of content, educational or otherwise, that is shown on this Sesame Street. Bert and Ernie have always been represented as best friends and roommates. As for now, Sesame Street writers and producers have no intention on making these characters/puppets openly gay or married (whether to one another or to female characters). But, we have to ask ourselves, is the problem really educational programs teaching our children about homosexuality or about marriage? The Muppet Show and Movies at some point depicted Kermit the Frog and Miss Piggy as a married couple and they were definitely different. He is a frog and she is a pig. We know that frogs and pigs can’t procreate just like two women and two men can’t procreate, however; the depiction of a frog and pig marriage was still acceptable in mainstream programming, possibly because procreation is not a requirement for marriage. If you watch closely though, there are some troubling attributes to the marriage of Kermit and Piggy. Piggy is always portrayed as being insanely jealous, insecure and even violent toward Kermit and the women she believes are sexually or emotionally attracted to Kermit. Kermit is always portrayed as being terrified of his wife, bending to her will, very sweet to her as a means of appeasement and without much of a backbone. Basically he is portrayed as a weak-minded male figure in his marriage to Piggy. What’s worse is that Kermit has the sense that he was forced into the marriage. While these two characters have a heterosexual orientation, their relationship might not be the representation of what we want to teach our children about marriage.
So I want to know your thoughts? Do you feel it’s okay to integrate LBGT characters into preschool educational programming? What good or harm can this do to our children?