Whether she’s stepping into the ring to dish out punishment or using her power as a well-suited official to do the same, Sonya Deville’s presence within WWE speaks to more than your average pro wrestling fan. Deville is a history maker, becoming the first out lesbian competitor in WWE history and one of the most forward-facing figures for the LGBTQ community to millions of WWE fans.

The significance of that role isn’t lost on Deville, as her push for authentic LGBTQ representation and visibility within WWE remains a goal seven years after her first appearance on WWE programming.

“It’s something that’s super important because I went through that same journey that a lot of people are going through in the LGBTQ community, which is struggling with my sexuality and being open about it,” Deville said on Outsports’ LGBT In The Ring podcast. “That’s the position I was in seven-plus years ago.”

Deville famously came out on national television while competing on WWE’s reality show Tough Enough in 2015 in an unexpected and “awkward” moment. But that admission sparked a journey where Deville came to fully embrace her identity and become a figure of empowerment for others facing similar struggles.

“Looking back seven years later, it’s like, wow. That was kind of the moment in my life where I started really being who I wanted to be,” Deville said. “With that freedom and openness with yourself, that’s kind of when, for me at least, that’s when I started to really accept myself and believe in myself, ironically.

“I’m just happy that I can be a voice for people that might be going through that part of their journey right now, or a different experience that might be difficult. I was always looking for that representation to kind of reassure me that it was OK to be who I was, and there wasn’t much of it when I was growing up. Especially in my small hometown. It just wasn’t that prominent to be open and out.

“So, yeah, I take kind of like a personal responsibility to be that openness for kids or young people that are in the shoes that I was in a decade ago.”

Deville provides that visual figure she didn’t have every week on Raw and Smackdown, but she also takes on that responsibility beyond the arena. The Pride Fighter has become somewhat of an LGBTQ ambassador for WWE, regularly representing the company at events for LGBTQ advocacy groups, including the Human Rights Campaign and GLAAD.

She was also instrumental in WWE’s Pride month celebrations in recent years.

But she also impacts people on a grounded, personal level as well, even in the form of a goofy, lovely slice of the internet.

A famous moment of Deville at Miami Pride that aired on WWE’s reality show Total Divas has become somewhat of a rallying point for LGBTQ people on social media. The image of Deville running in the street, waving the Pride flag and yelling “I’m gay” has become a vital image to many, even being used as a tool for LGBTQ people to announce their coming out.

“That meme haunts me because it’s just so ridiculous, but I love it,” Deville said in between laughter. “I was just being silly and goofy. I was excited. I don’t know how that came to be, but it’s really cool to see people using it in their own comedic ways but also coming out. Sometimes they just put the meme up there and it speaks for itself.

“It’s really cool. Like I said, I just want to be, if anything, kind of just that buffer between them and the world. I’ll do it first and kind of take on whatever heat is to come.

“I’d like to bulldoze down some of those obstacles.”

Check out the full interview with Sonya Deville on the Outsports podcast LGBT In The Ring. Download and listen to new episodes every Thursday on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts and all other podcast services.