First They Came for Bert and Ernie

On the current cover of The New Yorker, there is a picture of the beloved Sesame Street characters Bert and Ernie titled "Bert and Ernie's Moment of Joy," addressing the historic Supreme Court rulings on gay marriage.

For those of you who don't know, there is a long history of cartoon characters and puppets being forcibly "outed" as gay. I am amazed that anyone would be concerned about the sexual and romantic orientation of any imaginary figure.

The first "outing" was Bert and Ernie. These two beloved American figures were minding their own business, taking baths together, singing silly songs together (probably Broadway tunes), sleeping in the same twin beds -- with a picture of them both together over the headboard. Best buds they were! Bachelors at best. And then in 1990, the Rev. Joseph Chambers, a Pentecostal minister from Charlotte, N.C., decided that they're a gay couple.

"They're two grown men sharing a house -- and a bedroom!" bellowed Chambers, whose radio ministry is broadcast in four Southern states. "They share clothes. They eat and cook together. They vacation together and have effeminate characteristics. In one show Bert teaches Ernie how to sew. In another, they tend plants together. If this isn't meant to represent a homosexual union, I can't imagine what it's supposed to represent."

The Children's Television Workshop and Sesame Street both issued a statement defending the characters, saying that these two are in fact not a gay couple. In fact, Sesame Street still says that Bert and Ernie do not have a sexual orientation.

Since then, Bert and Ernie have largely kept their distance from each other onscreen. They are still friends, and children still say "Bert 'n' Ernie" in one breath. But the baths have stopped, and their pictures together are gone.

Then, in 1999, Rev. Jerry Falwell "outed" a Teletubby who was minding his own business and having fun with the other three Teletubbies. He was purple (lavender!), carried his magic bag (a purse!), spoke in a high voice (effeminate!), and wore a triangle (the symbol of gay pride!) on his head. The Itsy Bitsy Entertainment Co. reassured everyone, including good old Jerry, that Tinky Winky, whom they license as dolls and in many other formats, is not gay.

I was so upset about all of this that in 2000, when my partner and I were married under Reform Judaism, we tied small figures of Bert, Ernie, and Tinky Winky together with a rainbow ribbon with a note that read, "A Perfect Family." Since there was no bride at our wedding, so no bouquet or garter belt available, Mike and I threw big dolls of Bert and Ernie.

Then James Dobson, the founder of Focus on the Family, a right-wing Christian group, singled out cartoon character SpongeBob SquarePants, who has his own eponymous half-hour cable show on Nickelodeon. Dobson accused SpongeBob, or maybe his creators, of "promoting the gay agenda."

Actually, SpongeBob has been under suspicion for a while now and is a gay icon for some. But his creators deny that he is gay and have also stated that those who think he is should "increase their medications." Too funny -- and how clever, to suddenly put the whole argument in an adult perspective!

But the question I have is why no female cartoon characters are ever "outed." It's because anti-gay organizations almost always target males.

Can we talk about Peppermint Patty from the Peanuts comic strip? She is clearly a lesbian, and it's obvious that she is in romantic love with Lucy, always following her around. She even has a friend Marcie --also clearly a lesbian -- who calls her "sir"! And lesbians say they have adopted Velma from Scooby Doo. They proudly say that her hairstyle is very butch, and she always wears sensible clothes and shoes.

And what about the Power Puff Girls? Those three flying tomboys can throw punches and save the day, one half-hour at a time, better than any man in Townsville!

Why do those who oppose homosexuality make so little fuss about these female cartoon characters, aside from a small uproar on the Internet? Because the vast majority of homophobic and anti-gay attacks are made by patriarchal heterosexual men -- and by some patriarchal heterosexual women, like Women of America (WOA) and One Million Moms -- who require rigid gender roles.

They also view homosexuality as nothing more than a sexual behavior rather than a sexual and romantic identity. Lesbians can be sexualized and used for these men's erotic pleasure. They can't do it with gay men.

If Bert and Ernie are gay and watching history on the couch while wrapped in each other's arms, then I'm glad to be alongside them as a real-life openly gay man. I can't wait until Buzz Lightyear, that Muscle Beach spaceman from Toy Story, comes out. Now, he is hot!