Shortly after a former Sesame Street writer voiced his belief that the characters of Bert and Ernie were a gay couple, The Sesame Workshop issued an official statement denying this was the case. This prompted further commentary from Frank Oz, who originally provided the voice of Bert opposite Jim Henson's Ernie.
The question of the exact relationship between Bert and Ernie has long been a source of humor and friction among fans of The Muppets and Sesame Street. While the official policy of the producers of the show has been that Bert and Ernie are just best friends and roommates, the two have been adopted as gay icons in much the same fashion as Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz and Sherlock Holmes. The controversy was a major part of the Sesame Street parody musical Avenue Q, where the characters of Rod and Nicky were clear parodies of Bert and Ernie and the two had a duet titled "If You Were Gay."
The recent controversy started after former Sesame Street writer Mark Saltzman was interviewed by Queerty. Saltzman, a gay man, spoke about how his relationship with film editor Arnold Glassman informed how he wrote the interaction between Bert and Ernie, due to how their friends commented on how the order-minded Glassman and the upbeat, joking Saltzman acted just like Bert and Ernie. To that end, in Saltzman's mind, Bert and Ernie had always been a gay couple because it was impossible for him not to view them as such. Saltzaman elaborated: "That’s what I had in my life, a Bert & Ernie relationship. How could it not permeate? The things that would tick off Arnie would be the things that would tick off Bert. How could it not?"
Deadline later reported on the official response by The Sesame Workshop and the Twitter commentary of original Bert actor Oz. It's the position of The Sesame Workshop that Bert and Ernie do not have an established sexual identity. The company elaborated that "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."
Oz went one step further in his comments on his personal Twitter account, not only affirming that Bert and Ernie are straight, but questioning why it's so important that the characters have a defined sexuality. Oz was quickly confronted by several gay fans of Bert and Ernie, who said that they saw themselves and their partners in the characters, and that it helped them come to terms with who they are. While continuing to insist that he had created and played the character of Bert as being straight, Oz did say he was pleased "that people see themselves and others positively in those characters."
While it's unlikely this question will be settled to anyone's satisfaction anytime soon, there's one point most parties will agree upon. Oz has a point when he says that the fact that people see themselves in Bert and Ernie and that they and the other Sesame Street characters helped young people to learn something about themselves is a good thing. Regardless of whether or not Bert and Ernie love each other romantically, it's certain that they love each other, and teach viewers that they can love each other despite their differences. That's a powerful message, and one that kids of all ages would do well to take to heart.