Gay Tinky Winky Bad for Children

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Gay Tinky Winky Bad for Children


By: Bob Esposito

Date: February 11, 1999

Source: Bob Esosito. "Bob Shortz, of Luzerne, Pa., dressed as the Teletubby 'Po.'" Associated Press, February 11, 1999.

About the Photographer: Bob Esposito is a photographer based in Pennsylvania who has contributed photographs to several Pennsylvania newspapers as well as the Associated Press.


Muppets Bert and Ernie, from the long-running children's show Sesame Street, have been the targets of rumor since the 1980s, when Spy magazine founder Kurt Anderson, in his 1980 book The Real Thing, stated that "Bert and Ernie conduct themselves in the same loving, discreet way that millions of gay men, women and hand puppets do. They do their jobs well and live a splendidly settled life together in an impeccably decorated cabinet." At the time the creators of the Muppets, Henson Productions, did not reply to the statement, but the rumor persisted.

By 1993, the rumors had reached a point where Children's Television Workshop received a steady stream of letters complaining about Bert and Ernie's alleged homosexual relationship. Conservative leaders and religious figures, concerned about children's exposure to homosexuality through cartoon and puppet characters, began to scrutinize children's programming, prompting the Children's Television Workshop to issue a 1993 statement concerning Bert and Ernies' sexual orientation: "Bert and Ernie, who've been on Sesame Street for twenty-five years, do not portray a gay couple, and there are no plans for them to do so in the future. They are puppets, not humans."

A Charlotte, North Carolina Pentacostal preacher, Reverend Joseph Chambers, railed against Bert and Ernie in a religious radio program hosted in early 1994. Reverend Chambers stated that "They're two grown men sharing a house and a bedroom. They share clothes. They eat and cook together. They vacation together, and they 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."

In February 1999, the Reverend Jerry Falwell, a conservative Christian leader in the United States and founder of the Moral Majority, released a statement concerning the sexual orientation of a fictional character on the British children's television show "Teletubbies." "Tinky Winky," a stuffed purple asexual character on the popular toddler television show, according to Falwell, spoke with a female affect, was purple (a color sometimes associated with gay pride), carried a purse, and on the top of his stuffed head he wore an upside-down triangle, a symbol of homosexuality.



See primary source image.


Falwell's critique generated ridicule and scorn from cultural critics, late-night television talk show hosts, and newspaper columnists in the United States and abroad. The creators of "Teletubbies" issued statements negating Falwell's accusations while Falwell stood by his original assertion, claiming that "As a Christian, I believe that role-modeling the gay lifestyle is damaging to the moral lives of children. I find the flat denials of such a portrayal by "Teletubbies" producers to be disingenuous and insufficient in answering the questions that have been raised about the Tinky Winky character since the series premiered in England in 1997."

This pattern of finding homosexual undertones in children's programming emerged again in 2005 when Dr. James Dobson, head of Focus on the Family (a conservative religious organization) accused the founders of We Are Family Foundation, a foundation formed after September 11, 2001 to promote cultural understanding, of using the popular children's cartoon character and television show "SpongeBob SquarePants" to support pro-homosexuality messages in curriculum designed for multiculturalism programs. The videotape Dobson critiques is one in which cartoon characters such as Clifford the Big Red Dog, Barney, Bob the Builder, and others appear, discussing tolerance and diversity. There are no references to sexual orientation or sexuality in the video.

According to Dobson, in a newsletter to members of Focus on the Family, the We Are Family Foundation website included lessons plans for teachers with questions such as "Do you know of any people in your school whose sexual orientation differs from yours?" "How do you know?" "Are you comfortable with that person or those people?" Dobson stated that his remarks about the video were "about the way in which those childhood symbols are apparently being hijacked to promote an agenda that involves teaching homosexual propaganda to children."

Characterizing his SpongeBob reference as one that was taken out of context, Dobson went on the say "I'm sure you can see, now, why I expressed great concern about the intention of the We Are Family Foundation in using SpongeBob and company to promote the theme of 'tolerance and diversity,' which are almost always buzzwords for homosexual advocacy." Other conservative organizations in the United States, such as Traditional Family Values and the American Family Association echoed Dobson's concerns.

Nile Rodgers, founder of the We Are Family Foundation and writer of the 1979 hit song "We Are Family," denies that his video or website contain a homosexual agenda.

According to a statement from Jerry Falwell ministries, "Dr. Falwell has never seen the 'Teletubbies' TV program."



Day, Frances Ann. Lesbian and Gay Voices: An Annotated Bibliography and Guide to Literature for Children and Young Adults. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1997.

Web sites

BBC News Online. "Gay Tinky Winky Bad for Children." 〈〉 (accessed March 31, 2006).

Focus on the Family. "Dr. Dobson's Newsletter: Setting the Record Straight." 〈〉 (accessed March 31, 2006).

Jerry Falwell's National Liberty Journal. "Tinky Winky Comes Out of the Closet." 〈〉 (accessed March 31, 2006). "Conservatives Pick Soft Target: A Cartoon Sponge." 〈〉 (accessed March 31, 2006).