Does Pride Month’s newest ally live in a pineapple under the sea? That’s what many on the internet believed when Nickelodeon logged on this weekend and posted a Pride Month tweet that prominently featured its porous yellow ocean-dweller, SpongeBob SquarePants (voiced by Tom Kenny) alongside the network’s established LGBTQ icons: Korra from the hit animated series, The Legend of Korra, and Henry Danger star Michael D. Cohen, who described his transgender journey to Time magazine in 2019.
Reached by Yahoo Entertainment, Nickelodeon had no additional comment about SpongeBob’s presence in the tweet, which features a special Pride Month filter created by artist Ramzy Masri. That hasn’t stopped many on Twitter from celebrating his inclusion as another progressive step by the network following its powerful PSA as part of the Black Lives Matter protests inspired by the death of George Floyd.
This is far from the first time that SpongeBob’s sexuality has been a source of speculation. As early as 2002, the show was accused by conservative groups of endorsing same-sex marriage based on an episode in which SpongeBob and his best friend Patrick play parents to a lost baby scallop. And in 2005, Focus on the Family founder James Dobson targeted the character for appearing in a “pro-homosexual video.” But the show’s creator, Stephen Hillenburg, always made a point of strenuously pushing back on any attempts to label his star sponge or his pals. “I always think of them as being somewhat asexual,” he told The Wall Street Journal in 2002, while also emphasizing that the sponge’s hometown, Bikini Bottom, is an inclusive community where differences are accepted and “No one is shut out.” (Hillenburg died in 2018.)
Nickelodeon’s Pride Month tweet kicked up the debate again, with some critics accusing the network of violating the creator’s wishes.
But they were shut down by fans who noted that the character’s asexuality remains intact and only enhances his LGBTQ ally bona fides.
SpongeBob SquarePants airs on Nickelodeon; The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge on the Run is due in theaters on Aug. 7.
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