Arthur’s favorite teacher has been hiding a secret. On the Season 22 premiere of Arthur, the long-running PBS Kids animated series about an aardvark and his friends, it was revealed that Arthur’s beloved teacher Mr. Ratburn is gay. The surprising news came on Monday’s premiere, titled “Mr. Ratburn and the Special Someone,” TV Line reports.
In the episode, Arthur and his pals are shocked to find out that Mr. Ratburn is engaged and they fear it is to an uptight woman, Patty (voiced by special guest star Jane Lynch), who they spot him lunching with. As they plot to break up Mr. Ratburn’s wedding to the presumed bossy bride, they later find that the questionable female rat is actually Mr. Ratburn’s sister and that their favorite teacher is actually marrying a man, Patrick, whom they met earlier at the chocolate shop.
As their teacher strolls down the aisle arm-in-arm with his groom, the animated aardvark and his friends are happy to see how happy Mr. Ratburn is, with one of Arthur’s friends noting, “It’s a brand new world.” In the end, the meddlesome classmates eat cake and only make fun of the newlyweds’ dancing skills at their wedding reception.
In a statement to People, the network explained the decision to include a gay wedding on the long-running children’s show.
“PBS KIDS programs are designed to reflect the diversity of communities across the nation. We believe it is important to represent the wide array of adults in the lives of children who look to PBS KIDS every day.”
Mr. Ratburn’s wedding is not the first time an Arthur-related series has featured a gay character. A 2005 episode of Postcards From Buster spinoff featured the franchise’s resident rabbit as he met several children whose moms were lesbians. The L-word was not used in the episode, but Buster did note, “Boy, that’s a lot of moms!”
According to Variety, the Postcards From Buster episode with the lesbian moms came under fire at the time, with then-Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings denouncing the PBS kiddie program.
Fifteen years after the controversial Postcards From Buster episode, reaction to Mr. Ratburn’s wedding to a man was positive on social media, with some calling the animated teacher a “gay icon.” Others noted that Mr. Ratburn did not technically “come out,” as the episode made it clear he has been in a happy, relationship with his future husband for a long time.
Arthur airs on PBS Kids.