Bert and Ernie Gay? Apparently Not

Bert and Ernie, from Sesame Street, appear in a parade Japan in this 2008 file photo.
Getty Images

There's a sketch comedy show in Britain that sees lead actress Catherine Tate play the role of Derek Faye, a middle-aged man who lives with his mother and fumes with righteous indignation at the frequent assumptions by others that he is a homosexual.

His oft-repeated refrain: "Who dear? Me dear? Gay dear? No dear! How very dare you!" The line is delivered as he storms off with a leather clutch tucked under his arm, lips pursed, and in many cases carrying some form of subtly gay literature. (See an example on YouTube)

The insinuation is that Derek is, in fact, gay, but either won't or can't accept it publicly.

So must the producers of Sesame Street feel about Bert and Ernie, the iconic pair in matching striped outfits who have cohabitated on the children's program, sharing a bedroom, for three decades.

I watched Sesame Street every morning for years. It never occurred to me that the pair were gay. It's not a concept with which most three-year-olds are familiar.

So the current flap over a remark by "Bert" in June on Sesame Street's official Twitter page, in which he refers to his hairdo as more "mo" than "hawk," has taken me by surprise -- likely because the slang abbreviation for homosexual was new to me, and because I never spent much time assigning sexualities to characters whose heads move when they speak rather than their jaws.

One eagle-eyed blogger, however, held up the "mo" tweet as a loosely veiled official coming-out by the yellow-headed non-human, albeit in good humor.

It may have been that commentary on the AfterElton.com blog by Ed Kennedy that sparked the Los Angeles Times to research and write an in-depth look at the apparent homosexual subplot on Sesame Street.

Jarrett Barrios, head of GLAAD, the nation's biggest gay and lesbian rights group, commended Sesame Street in an interview with the LA Times.

"As more and more loving and committed gay and lesbian couples begin families, it's important that their children see representations of their families on their favorite shows," he told the paper, adding that the show, "has a long history of teaching children about diversity and acceptance, and I don't expect that our community will be left out of that education."

It was the show's official response which reminded me of Derek Faye.

"We've always reached out to a variety of actors and athletes and celebrities to appear on the show, and our programming has always appealed to adults as much as children," Sesame Workshop's VP of communications told the Times.

Ellen Lewis went on to tell the newspaper it "never crossed our minds" that Sesame Street's invitation to a number of gay celebrities to guest star this year, and an episode parodying a particular series of vampire movies popular among gay and lesbian audiences -- and then Bert's Tweet -- would be interpreted as "consciously trying to appeal to gay viewers."

Sesame Workshop insists they're not doing that... They failed to add, and "how very dare you!"

Given the backlash by powerful conservative groups against SpongeBob SquarePants' appearance in a pro-diversity video aimed at instilling a sense of tolerance in America's children, it would be difficult for Sesame Street's creators, whose show airs on publicly funded PBS, to say anything else.

Organizations like Focus on the Family and the Family Research Council (the latter of which, according to one account, has a "homosexuality detection expert" on staff), could petition their friends in Congress to cut the network's funding if Bert's Twitter innuendo were to be confirmed.

A spokesman for Focus on the Family dubbed SpongeBob's brief appearance in the 2002 "We Are Family" promotional video, "an insidious means by which the organization is manipulating and potentially brainwashing kids."

Back into the closet, Bert.

This commentary was filed by CBSNews.com's Tucker Reals in London.

  • Tucker Reals

    Tucker Reals is the CBSNews.com foreign editor, based at the CBS News London bureau.

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