The rise in LGBTQ identities within pro wrestling is still somewhat in its infancy with many of its major figures still fairly early in their careers. But that hasn’t stopped their cultural impact from influencing an incoming crop of LGBTQ pro wrestlers emboldened by their presence.
Among that field is California-based pro wrestler Hunter Gallagher. The 22-year old has been plying his craft while training under the watchful eye of Solafa “Rikishi” Fatu Jr and Reno “Black Pearl” Anoa’i, members of the legendary Anoa’i family pro wrestling dynasty, at Knokx Pro Wrestling Academy since January. In that time, Gallagher has found an inclusive environment to work toward his in-ring dreams.
“There’s no judgment here: gay, straight, bi, race, whatever it is. No one is judging there. Since the moment I joined, it’s been such a welcoming environment. I really don’t think I could ask for a better school,” Gallagher told Outsports. “Every time I go, it’s always so fun.”
Gallagher’s time at Knokx Pro is the latest step in a near-decade long wrestling journey. One that began with him not truly seeing himself as someone who belonged in the often masculinity-defined world of pro wrestling. That all changed when he happened upon a WWE match featuring Melina as a child.
“Wrestling was really popular with all the straight boys that used to bully me. So I would be like, ‘oh, that’s their thing. I should stay away from that.’ So when I would go to [my friend’s] house and watch it, I’d be like, Oh, great. Just what I want to watch,’” Gallagher recalled. “There was one match where the women came out and one girl named Melina did a split before she entered the ring. I said, ‘wait a minute, they have women wrestlers?’ That was so exciting to me because, growing up gay, a lot of people look at you as feminine anyways to a degree. It was kind of dope to see a feminine identity on my television screen.”
Gallagher was hooked. His passion was so great that his father built a makeshift ring in their backyard. That spirit, along with an extensive background in gymnastics, dance and acting, pushed Gallagher to first begin wrestling training while still in high school in Massachusetts. But that experience proved incredibly different from his current training environment, nearly pushing him away from wrestling.
“I was still in the closet and a lot of them knew I was gay. They would say some things or pick on me to a degree. There was one moment that traumatized me from going back there,” Gallagher said.
Dealing with such a dismissive atmosphere ultimately galvanized Gallagher’s desire to enter the wrestling business, but it also factored into him choosing Knokx Pro. The training school has been very public about its support of Spirit Day, an annual anti-bullying awareness campaign focused on LGBTQ youth, releasing high-energy videos via social media highlighting the cause.
KnokX Pro Wrestling Academy is proud to wear purple & stand together against bullying on #SpiritDay @GLAAD #StopTheHate— KNOKX PRO ENT. (@KNOKXPRO) October 19, 2017
Support all LGBTQ ️ Youth @jrrikishifatu @countblackpearl pic.twitter.com/I0bhuHuF9E
Gallagher knew Knokx Pro was the school for him when he discovered those videos, but the increased visibility of LGBTQ pro wrestlers like Sonny Kiss, Sonya Deville and Fred Rosser helped Gallagher see himself as belonging in an industry that once made him feel othered. “Seeing [Sonny Kiss’] moveset, you can tell he’s inspired by a lot of the women that used to wrestle too and that’s something that I was always nervous about,” Gallagher said. “I wasn’t sure if that would be respected by some of the people I train with but it definitely has been … the pro wrestling industry is becoming more open.”
Though his wrestling career is still in its infancy, Gallagher has his sights set on the highest stage with the aim of continuing the cycle of representation and adding his profile to those pushing the industry in exciting, diverse directions. “Growing up, I was looking for someone like Sonny, Fred or any LGBTQ person that was wrestling, because I didn’t really see that. I would love to be any type of representation,” Gallagher said. “Just because you’re good doesn’t mean you can’t be sassy.”