01/28/2005 at 08:00 AM EST
Tossing water on the controversy as to whether he's straight or gay, SpongeBob SquarePants is ... neither, insists his creator.
Addressing issues raised last week after at least two conservative Christian activist groups said the hugely popular TV cartoon character and his best friend, Patrick Starfish, are being exploited to promote a homosexual lifestyle, SpongeBob SquarePants creator Stephen Hillenburg, 43, scoffed. He said the allegations are far-fetched, and that his agenda does not go beyond entertainment.
"It doesn't have anything to do with what we're trying to do," Hillenburg tells Reuters. "We never intended them to be gay. I consider them to be almost asexual. We're just trying to be funny and this has got nothing to do with the show."
Playful SpongeBob, who lives in a pineapple under the Pacific Ocean, was purportedly "outed" in 2002 news stories that reported his Nickelodeon TV show and its spin-off merchandise were popular with gays.
Focus on the Family founder James Dobson last week criticized the nonprofit We Are Family Foundation group's pro-diversity music video for children – and which includes SpongeBob: "Their inclusion of the reference to 'sexual identity' within their 'tolerance pledge' is not only unnecessary, but it crosses a moral line."
The Hollywood-based Hillenburg, a marine-science teacher turned animator who is married with a 6-year-old son, says there are "more important issues to worry about. I really don't pay much attention to this."