All Elite Wrestling launched in January 2019 with the promise to bring change to the pro wrestling landscape. That aim manifested for many in the creation of a more physically intense in-ring style and increased creative freedom, but a mantra accompanied the push for a wrestling alternative: “AEW is for everyone.”
AEW has remained beholden to those four words, constructing and consistently expanding its diverse in-ring roster. For former AEW Women’s World champion Nyla Rose, those four words are what make being a part of AEW so gratifying.
“It’s pretty damn cool to work for a company and with a group of people who aren’t ashamed of you,” Rose said on Outsports’ podcast LGBT In The Ring. “I don’t feel like a dirty secret … I feel like everyone is proud of me. I’m one of the team, one of the family.”
It’s a refreshing feeling to hold, even as the professional wrestling landscape continues to shift its views on LGBTQ inclusion. While the number of out wrestling figures continues to grow and they gain more influence in the independent scene, major promotions have historically lagged behind in cultural progression.
But AEW has shown a commitment to highlighting its marginalized talent throughout its programming. Adopting that initiative hasn’t made AEW exempt from critique, though, when it comes to managing and effectively utilizing its wide range of competitors. Fans and critics alike spent parts of 2020 calling on the company to provide more air time for its women’s division and elevating more wrestlers of color to main-event programs.
To its credit, AEW has responded to those criticisms more openly than other major promotions, including specifically addressing how it dropped the ball in properly building Rose’s AEW Women’s World title rematch against current champion Hikaru Shida at its Full Gear pay-per-view event in November.
That commitment further materialized for Rose through the promotion consistently highlighting her trans identity to its fanbase, putting a face to the trans community for a wrestling audience that may not have a connection to it and giving trans wrestling fans a rare figure to hold in esteem.
Rose told her story on AEW’s Road to All Out series in 2019. She’s been open in the press about the significance of her impact within pro wrestling, and was front and center on AEW’s recent “Boundless” collaboration with Grammy-nominated director Director X. The opening image of Rose bashing in the allegorical glass barrier of a car windshield with an equally significant sledgehammer while exclaiming her transness is resonant of the work’s message about carving one’s own unique path.
But for Rose, AEW represented that crucial step from the very beginning. “I remember watching the announcement press conference and [hearing] Matt Jackson say we don’t care if you’re this that or the other: as long as you’re good we want you here,” Rose said. “Just hearing him say that made me feel like I had an opportunity. I wasn’t immediately like ‘Well, I might as well not send anything in. They’re never going to look at me’ … little did I know I was already on their radar.”
Feeling that embrace and its power to fuel self-determination in the underrepresented is the lasting impression of the “Boundless” message for Rose. “You don’t have to be who anyone tells you you are,” Rose said. “You can push those envelopes. You can go as far as you feel you can take yourself. That’s a big part of what being boundless is: you set your own boundaries and you break those boundaries.”