WWE’s track record when it comes to positive and meaningful LGBTQ representation has hardly escaped the doldrums, even as the greater pro wrestling industry has embraced those under the rainbow banner more over the past few years.
Even as the company currently houses its most out wrestlers ever on its roster, the push for LGBTQ inclusion in wrestling as a whole has barely penetrated WWE’s programming. For every mention of Jake Atlas’ “Rainbow DDT” finisher and vaguely coded push to fight for his “supporters,” a sensationalized, tone-deaf moment such as the Liv Morgan-Lana angle from December 2019 presents a stark reminder of the company’s attitude.
But one figure has been out front in pushing LGBTQ presence within the company in recent years: Sonya Deville.
Deville, real name Daria Berenato, is WWE’s first out lesbian wrestler. It’s a truth she’s lived since her beginning days in the company, coming out publicly on an episode of the company’s reality competition series Tough Enough in 2015.
The “Pride Fighter” kept her identity at the forefront when possible in the years since that moment. Her rainbow-clad gear at WrestleMania 34 in 2018 started a practice of fashionable nods to the LGBTQ community and her inclusion on Total Divas beamed a positive portrayal of same-sex relationships into homes nationwide.
It’s a very gratifying and fulfilling thing for me because I was on the other side of the coin five, six years ago looking up to people on television, feeling comfort in having allies that represented me on media and TV and film and entertainment,” Deville recently told the New York Post. “To be that for the next generation and for the youth who might not be comfortable with who they are, it’s super relatable for me.”
She supplemented that on-screen work with public pushes for advocacy through work with GLAAD and the Human Rights Campaign, though some of those occurrences coincided with WWE events in Saudi Arabia, which still criminalizes LGBTQ identities.
With Pride month underway as Deville experiences her best bit of character development on WWE television, the out grappler remains hopeful that WWE’s attitudes toward the LGBTQ community will continue shifting in meaningful ways. That includes the possibility of a genuine same-sex relationship storyline on WWE programming, something Deville has pushed for fervently.
“I think anything’s possible. Especially this year, I don’t rule it out at all,” said Deville. “Inclusion is important in every aspect of life, including sports entertainment, and I think that the company would agree on that.”
She also branched out into tacit discussions on gender after christening herself “Daddy Deville” in April during her storyline feud with former tag team partner and close friend Mandy Rose. According to Deville, the new moniker was inspired by fellow WWE wrestler Becky Lynch’s adoption of “The Man” as a nickname in 2018 and is meant to remove gender roles as a means to redefine women wrestlers and women’s wrestling within the company.
“It’s kind of cool to take gender roles out of it, showing people that Daddy can mean anything,” Deville told the New York Post. “It’s not attached to a certain gender, but it obviously comes with a dominant title because when we think of dad we think of this dominant, large-and-in-charge person in our lives, and I kind of feel like I’m that dominant large-and-in-charge person in the division now.”
WWE audiences eagerly await “Daddy Deville’s” next step in pushing LGBTQ identities to the forefront, especially as Pride month gets underway. Deville spearheaded WWE’s first ever Pride photoshoot last year.
This year, Deville has thrown her support behind the Black Lives Matter movement in response to George Floyd’s killing and committed a portion of proceeds from the sale of Pride-themed DaMandyz Donutz, the donut review YouTube series she co-hosts with Rose, apparel to The Trevor Project. Deville also announced that she’d make a matching donation for the sale of non-Pride themed apparel to Black Lives Matter.
Hopefully 2020 delivers a loftier pulpit for all of WWE’s LGBTQ talent to positively promote their community.