If you haven’t heard, former Sesame Street writer Mark Saltzman said in an interview he believes the characters Bert & Ernie are a homosexual couple
This has sparked all kinds of reaction from outrage to philosophy – creator Frank Oz asked, “Why the need to define people as only gay?” Lots of people are mad. Social media is well-stocked with people swearing their kids will never watch Sesame Street again, and religious people are quite indignant. Some people are praising the news, calling it inclusive.
When the subject of sexual orientation comes up, any discussion is going to go into 2 areas that people always say should never be discussed – politics and religion. This is a view people hold because when discussing their political or religious beliefs, many people are very passionate about their view, and emotion quickly takes control of their thoughts and words. Then, when those emotions encounter a different set of emotions and views, the discussion quickly deteriorates into name-calling, insults and threats. Wild accusations follow. Environmentalists believe Earth will not exist in 200 years because of the activity of American Republicans. Any day now, we can count on an editorial from Pat Robertson blaming Hurricane Florence on liberals (he blames liberals for everything in the universe).
I do not agree with this stance. I think religion and politics must be discussed. We just need to be mature about it and not let emotion do all the talking. If no one discusses them, you are only left to base your beliefs off of your parents’ beliefs – you will either adopt them as your own, or go the opposite way in reaction, as I did (I come from a family of liberals and became conservative as a teenager, until I saw the light and joined the Libertarians a few years ago).
With the sexual orientation question, my reaction is one you will hear from a typical Libertarian – what people do in their own bedrooms is their own business, and I am too busy trying to keep my own life in order to jump into somebody else’s life and instruct them how to live it. What I want is consistency. If you’re walking through a park and see a man and a woman kissing, do you say or think, “Geez, get a room!” Many people would. If you had the same reaction to 2 men kissing, you would be accused of being homophobic or hateful. I say, either tell both couples to get a room or neither of them. If public displays of affection are OK for heterosexual couples, then they are OK for homosexual couples. If you want to stop PDA with homosexual couples, you had better feel the same way about it for heterosexual couples. As a Christian, my personal belief follows the Bible, and you can probably figure out what that is, but I’m not about to go around beating people about the head and shoulders with a leather-bound NIV. If anyone asks me questions, I’m happy to share my views. But I think that’s where a lot of religious people get off track. Yes, the Bible gives lots of specific instructions on a lot of subjects, but not everyone wants to hear them. You have to find out if they want to hear it before you force it on them.
Religious people also tend to over-dramatize things. We had this problem in Charlotte a few years ago when the Mayor and City Council passed an ordinance to add sexual orientation as a class of people that could not be discriminated against. Part of said protection was allowing people to use public restrooms and other similar facilities based on their gender identity rather than their birth gender. Many people, myself included, thought the city’s leaders were seeking to answer a question no one was asking. I’m not saying there was no such thing as gay or transgender people being harassed or abused in restrooms or locker rooms, but rather when those things happened, they were infrequent enough to be handled case-by-case and there wasn’t enough to warrant a legislative change. Either way, the state legislature was swift to react.
The state legislature in North Carolina is overwhelmingly populated by rural, religious people. They look with either disdain or outright hatred at large cities, especially Charlotte. They are heavily influenced by religious special interest groups. They quickly moved to punish Charlotte with a bill that not only nullified the Charlotte ordinance, but made it illegal for any local municipality to enact any such law. Companies and tourism interests fled North Carolina in droves. The governor lost his re-election bid. The legislature had to back down and modify the law.
That’s the most famous mis-step of the religious right wing in NC. It was not the last. In 2017, another bill driven by special interests came up. This one would allow alcohol sales on Sundays to begin at 10 AM instead of noon. This was pushed by the hospitality industry, with grocers adding support. Restaurants were unhappy with missing out on sales of alcoholic beverages with Sunday brunch. The people who might buy alcohol at the grocery store are highly unlikely to be church-goers, so why should they have to wait for church to be over to buy a 6-pack for the 1:00 football game?
Religious leaders lost control. A Baptist preacher lamented the sorry state of NC if the bill passed. How could state leaders allow The Devil to make them think this was OK? He questioned his parishioners’ safety, with them having to navigate roads filled with drunk drivers as they tried to get to Sunday morning service. No, I’m not kidding.
It’s those kinds of over-reaction that helped push me away from the conservatives and into the Libertarian camp. There are plenty of ideals that conservatives hold that I generally agree with. But this compulsion of super-religious people to jump in people’s faces and tell them what to do really repulses me.
Which brings me back to the sexual orientation discussion. Comedian Lewis Black once said that the people who really hate gay people do so because they don’t know any. I think he’s on to something there. Growing up, the only person I knew that “bat for the home team” was my cousin. Because there was little to no acceptance of homosexuality in the ‘70s and ‘80s, no one talked about it. As viewpoints have changed since then, it’s easier for people to talk about it, and for those in the group to say so publicly. Over the years I got to know more people in this group. In one corporate job, I reported to a manager who is gay. I work alongside someone in Toastmasters who is gay. And one of my wife’s best friends is gay. I call him a friend as well, and have no issue with his orientation. I’m too busy making fun of him for being a vegan.
People my age and my cousin’s age (he & I were born 5 months apart) had to fight hard for acceptance, so they have this “I’M GAY, AND YOU WILL LIKE IT!!” persona, whereas people coming of age now will simply say, “I’m gay,” and they and the rest of us will keep it moving. A lot of people who work in Hollywood, such as Mark Saltzman, think we’re still in the ‘80s and they still have to push the “I’M GAY, AND YOU WILL LIKE IT!!” narrative, even though the majority of people don’t really care.
As for Bert & Ernie, whether they are or aren’t gay is a silly question, because they are puppets, not people. And if Sesame Street is supposed to be programming for 4-year-olds, how about we leave discussions of sexual orientation until age 8-10, when they are old enough to understand it? Let little kids be little kids for as long as possible, OK?
The brown, furry elephant that was always in dire need of Prozac, on the other hand……..