Looks like ‘Sesame Street’ is about to get even gayer

Looks like ‘Sesame Street’ is about to get even gayer

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Image Credit: ‘Sesame Street,’ Sesame Workshop

With a number of LGBTQ+ guests of late, is Sesame Street becoming the hub of a bustling new gayborhood?

Well, not exactly. But we’re always happy to see the long-running children’s program stand by its messaging of acceptance and inclusivity, inviting queer stars to the show—even if it is reticent to let any of its Muppets actually be out and proud. *cough* Bert and Ernie *cough*

The latest is Queerties Breakout Musical Artist winner Reneé Rapp, the Mean Girl with a sweet set of pipes, who shared a video from the set of Sesame Street with her childhood hero, Elmo.

“Mom, I was literally on Sesame Street,” the out lesbian singer-actor-Broadway star writes in the caption. Proving she and the furry red TV icon go way back, Rapp even dug up a childhood photo where she’s taking baby-steps around the house in some cute Elmo slippers.

No word yet on when the Snow Angel singer’s episode will air, or what to expect, but we’re hopeful the talented vocalist will get to duet with Elmo. As one commenter points out on her Instagram, the title of Rapp’s track “Tummy Hurts” sounds like the name of a Sesame Street song already (We just imagine they’d alter some lyrics, because Elmo crooning about an ex’s baby growing up to be a jerk doesn’t feel appropriate.)

Of course, Rapp is far from the first queer person to pop by Sesame Streetshe’s not even the first lesbian to sing with Elmo! But her upcoming appearance did have us thinking about the ways the series has welcomed the LGBTQ+ community into its sunny world over the years.

A brief history of LGBTQ+ inclusion on Sesame Street

First things first: Bert and Ernie—they’re totally gay, right?

The felt friends have been part of Sesame Street since the very beginning in 1969, and the show has gotten a lot of mileage out of their yin and yang dynamic: Ernie, always bright and bubbly, frequently dreams up ideas that frustrate the more straight-laced, unibrowed Bert to hilarious effect. A classic dynamic!

But the thing is, they spend pretty much all their time together, and even sleep in the same room. That’s not just a decision to cut down on apartment rental costs—the way we see it, these two are clearly a representation of longterm gay coupledom.

Image Credit: Getty Images

While their assumed relationship or queerness have never officially been addressed by the show, we spoke to Emmy-winning Sesame Street writer Mark Saltzman back in 2018, who admitted that he always viewed the pair as gay: “I always felt that without a huge agenda, when I was writing Bert & Ernie, they were. I didn’t have any other way to contextualize them.”

And, the following year, after decades of denying it, the Sesame Workshop made an official statement saying they are at least open to interpretations that Bert and Ernie are a gay couple: “People can think whatever they want [about Bert and Ernie]. You want to think they’re gay? Ok. You want to think they’re not gay? They’re not gay.”

You know what? We’ll take that as a yes!

Though Sesame Street has made space for those “special roomies” since the very beginning, it wasn’t until 1981 that there was some form of acknowledgment of queerness on the show. In the musical number “We All Sing With The Same Voice,” a chorus of kids sing about their unique qualities with the ultimate message that we all can live in harmony, featuring the lyric, “I’ve got one daddy, I’ve got two.”

It breezes by so quickly you might not even clock it, but that was a pretty forward-thinking idea to slip into public-access children’s programming in the early ’80s.

Unfortunately, it’d be nearly 40 years until the show would make an overt nod to the LGBTQ+ community again—perhaps not coincidentally after HBO saved the program from financial challenges and began airing first-runs of new episodes in late 2016.

Since then, the Sesame Street social media accounts have regularly celebrated Pride Month with cute, colorful graphics touting representation on screen, which is pretty easy because they can just line up their iconic characters—Elmo, Zoë, Big Bird, Oscar The Grouch, Cookie Monster, The Count—and voila! they’ve got a rainbow. 🌈 

According to the online Muppet Wiki resource, the show has also made various references to same-sex couples in recent years, including a “Father’s Day’ segment on Elmo’s World in 2017 that depicted a child with two dads, the recurring “F Is For Family” segment which features two moms in a montage of parents, and a 2021 song from guest country star Kelsea Ballerini about different kind of families.

And it’s in that same episode, “Family Day”—which aired during Pride Month ’21—that Sesame Street finally introduced and named LGBTQ+ character for the first time ever. During a garden party where the characters are celebrating families of all kinds, we’re introduced to Mia (Olivia Perez) and her two dads Frank (Alex Weisman) and Dave (Chris Costa) in the most casual, matter-of-fact way.

At one point, Frank shares, “There’s all kinds of different families, but what makes us a family is that we love each other”—no further explanation needed! Mia has appeared in a number of episodes since, though there’s only been one other instance where we’ve seen either of her dads on Sesame Street. Here’s hoping the show will bring them all back this Pride Month!

Naturally, conservatives were outraged at this totally sweet and normal showcase of familial love, but they tend to spend a lot of time getting mad at Sesame Street over innocuous things. They lost it when Billy Porter stopped by the show in his famous tuxedo dress (incorrectly labeling him a “drag queen”), and they couldn’t even stand it when Dr. Jill Biden guested to push the apparently liberal agenda of… kindness?

Considering certain right-wingers would prefer LGBTQ+ folks don’t even exist in front of younger audiences, it is pretty radical that Sesame Street has welcomed so many openly gay guest stars over the years.

Rapp joins a long list of names that includes Rosie O’Donnell, Sir Elton John, Lil Nas X, Ariana DeBose, Brandi Carlile, Ellen Degeneres, Billy Eichner, Kal Penn, Dan Levy, Billie Eilish, Wayne Brady, Melissa Etheridge, Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Janelle Monáe, Zachary Quinto, Wanda Sykes, BD Wong, and Lily Tomlin. To name a few.

No matter how cloudy things may seem, we’re glad to see a sunnier, more queer-inclusive world Sesame Street, where everyone is welcome.


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