Many folks online felt that they got a new LGBTQ+ community icon on Saturday — and he lives in a pineapple under the sea.
“Celebrating #Pride with the LGBTQ+ community and their allies this month and every month,” the network wrote alongside images of Schwoz Schwartz from Henry Danger, Korra from Avatar: The Legend of Korra, and the anthropomorphic sponge.
While Korra’s bisexuality was written into the show and Michael D. Cohen, who portrays Schwoz in Henry Danger, discussed his gender identity and transition with TIME in 2019, the sponge’s appearance on the list took some fans by surprise.
While the network did not specify whether SpongeBob was a member of the community or an ally, Twitter was quick to weigh in. Soon the phrase “Spongebob Gay” was trending on the site as people either cheered the decision, debated it, or offered supposed evidence gathered over the years of the character’s sexual orientation long theorized by fans.
Nickelodeon has not yet responded for request for comment on this story.
Some detractors voiced that they felt Nickelodeon Spongebob’s sexuality as a means of gathering support and attention, criticism routinely leveled at many companies who join to support Pride month.
Others on the social media site pointed out that back in 2005, after some conservative groups said the sponge’s relationship with his starfish best friend, Patrick, was promoting homosexuality, the show’s creator Stephen Hillenburg stated that Spongebob was, in fact, asexual. “We never intended them to be gay,” Hillenburg said of SpongeBob and Patrick in 2005. “I consider them to be almost asexual.”
The network may have included the pants-wearing sponge as a representative of the LGBTQIA+ community or simply indicated that Spongebob is a proud ally. See some responses to the celebratory post below.
Correction, June 23
The original version of this story misstated the name of the actor who portrays Schwoz in Henry Danger. He is Michael D. Cohen, not Henry D. Cohen.