Nickelodeon sparked excited discussion over the weekend after a tweet from the network appeared to out iconic character Spongebob Squarepants as gay.
The sexuality of the character–such as it is, he is a sponge, after all–has long come into question. Speculation has revolved around the character’s intense attachment to his friend Patrick, a starfish.
Series creator Stephen Hillenburg denied the allegation that Spongebob is gay in a 2002 interview, but that didn’t stop his popularity growing with queer viewers. It also didn’t stop noted homophobe James Dobson of Focus on the Family from attacking the character in 2005 for promoting homosexuality.
Now Nickelodeon has fanned the confusion, tweeting out an image of Spongebob with a rainbow tint alongside images of Michael D. Cohen, a transgender cast member of Henry Danger, and a picture of the bisexual character Avatar Korra, from The Legend of Korra.
— Nickelodeon (@Nickelodeon) June 13, 2020
“Celebrating #Pride with the LGBTQ+ community and their allies this month and every month,” the caption read. Not long after, the hashtag #SpongebobisGay began trending on social media.
In 2005, People reported that Stephen Hillenburg thought of Spongebob as asexual–like a real sponge. “We never intended them to be gay. I consider them to be almost asexual,” Hillenburg said at the time. “We’re just trying to be funny and this has got nothing to do with the show.”