WWE’s commitment to LGBTQ equality and representation has never been higher than in the last six years. That’s an easy statement to make considering the company’s investment in such communities was effectively none prior to Fred Rosser’s coming out in 2013, as “Darren Young,” but it doesn’t negate the baby steps taken by the wrestling giant.
More contracted talent have been outspoken in their support of the LGBTQ community since Rosser’s historic reveal, most notably Sonya Deville, WWE’s first out lesbian wrestler, and former WWE Universal champion Finn Balor. Fans are still waiting on the “alternative lifestyles” storylines Stephanie McMahon promised after Rosser came out, but seeing Deville and Balor don rainbow regalia on the Wrestlemania stage is a good step forward.
But, much like WWE’s non-committal booking style, every step forward comes with an equal or larger step back when it comes to WWE. Their pro-LGBTQ messaging isn’t exempt.
The most recent example of this came on Thursday, June 6. Deville and Mandy Rose, her close friend and “Fire and Desire” tag team partner, attended the GLAAD concert for Love & Acceptance in Nashville, Tenn., as ambassadors for WWE.
This was nothing new for Deville. She’s made appearances at multiple GLAAD sponsored events during her four-year stint with WWE as part of a partnership between the two organizations. Those appearances have been incredibly beneficial in softening WWE’s perceived attitude toward the community. They’ve also imbued Deville with a sense of purpose to go along with her in-ring aspirations.
“I do feel pressure, but I put it on myself because I want to represent the LGBTQ community in a place where they’ve never really been represented that much,” Deville told Yahoo Sports. “I take that personal responsibility to be the voice for them because I remember being the kid that didn’t have a voice or platform to speak.”
WWE showed their support for Deville’s message by tweeting multiple times about her and Rose’s appearance in Nashville from their public relations Twitter account. Its an all-around warm and fuzzy story ripe for Pride month.
The only problem is that Deville’s appearance and the company’s subsequent promotion of it came at the same time that the majority of the company’s employees were in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia preparing for the company’s third event contracted by the House of Saud, WWE Super Showdown.
The company promoted its only out LGBTQ performer while taking copious amounts of money from a government that deems homosexuality as a crime punishable by death. Saudi Arabia’s government administered a punishment to five men for allegedly engaging in gay acts less than two months before Super Showdown. The company was once again speaking out of both sides of its mouth.
WWE’s problematic financial dealings shouldn’t take away from the personal statements made by Deville and other allies within the company. But it certainly undercuts them when the company’s mechanisms, empowered by Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman’s money, promote their messages of inclusion. It’s hard to feel good about making a rainbow cake when the ingredients are purchased with homophobic funds.
For what it’s worth, a good crop of the company’s talent aren’t comfortable with the company’s cozy relationship with the Saudi royal family. Some talents aren’t allowed to make the trip over for reasons ranging from being of Syrian descent, to being a woman, but a select few chose not to go for personal reasons. The majority still make the trip despite its uncomfortable nature, but being in an oppressive hasn’t necessarily silenced them. The best example saw Balor take the time to tweet out a pro-LGBTQ message from Jeddah ahead of the show.
The statements of representation Deville and Balor promote stand alone separate from WWE. They shouldn’t be negated by the nature of the company’s business relationship with Saudi Arabia. But they also shouldn’t be used to balance out the company’s messaging regarding LGBTQ inclusion. One does not make up for the other. Rather, one seriously impacts the earnestness of the other. That’s especially saddening knowing how Deville’s presence on the WWE roster could be so much more impactful if it didn’t have to contend with such bad press.
WWE hasn’t shown any sign of ending its ten-year contract with Saudi Arabia despite a litany of negative headlines, fan boycotts and its own embarrassment with the association. LGBTQ fans and allies will simply have to keep promoting Deville’s message and forcing WWE’s hand on increased inclusion until the company can do so without compromise. Until then, here’s to the next rainbow handkerchief Deville rocks in those ripped jeans.