8 Great is our new, extremely original listicle series where we take a break from snark and negativity to focus on the positive and list eight of our favorite examples of something great from pro wrestling. Matches, performers, shows — whatever is helping us enjoy wrestling in a particular week, that’s what this feature is all about.
This week, I’m celebrating Pride Month by spotlighting eight proud LGBTQ wrestlers. For those of us in the queer community who enjoy wrestling, it can be disheartening sometimes how few people like us seem to be in the business, especially when you’re focused on the mainstream product. If you actually pay attention though, wrestling seems to be getting gayer every day, as more and more performers come out, and more young performers who’ve never been closeted to begin with join the business.
A few caveats and honorable mentions: WWE Legend Pat Patterson is obviously hugely important to history as a gay wrestler from an era where that was basically unthinkable, but I want to keep this short list focused on current wrestlers whose careers you can follow right now. Unfortunately leaving off retired wrestlers also excludes the much younger Kris Wolf, one of the most delightful wrestlers of the past few years, who only just retired this April due to concussion problems. Kenny Omega was also a contender, as most fans consider him to be bisexual, but he’s been pretty evasive about that outside of wrestling storylines, so I was uncomfortable putting him on a list of wrestlers who are meant to be entirely out of the closet. No disrespect to Kenny, who I love all the same. In general, no disrespect to anyone who got left off of this list. There are only eight slots, and there are actually quite a few LGBTQ wrestlers these days. If you have a favorite that I didn’t include, be sure and tell us why they’re great in the comments.
1. Sonya Deville
I don’t need to tell you who Sonya Deville is. She’s the first openly lesbian WWE Superstar, and also the first Superstar to be out at the time they signed with the company. In fact, Sonya came out on television in the first episode of the 2015 season of WWE’s Tough Enough reality show. Although she didn’t end up going far in that competition, she got signed to NXT all the same, and made her Main Roster debut in late 2017 as part of Paige’s short-lived faction Absolution. Since then she’s kept working with her best friend Mandy Rose, and when WWE remembers that they have a women’s tag division, the two wrestle as Fire And Desire.
You could certainly make the case (and I have) that Sonya has yet to receive the respect she deserves in WWE. She’s a fantastic wrestler, and could absolutely sustain a solo push instead of just playing supportive sidekick to Mandy. Still, even if she wasn’t in the Women’s Money In The Bank match, the way she carried Mandy up the ladder like Samwise Gamgee at Mount Doom made her look pretty impressive. She also does her best to be there for the LGBTQ community despite what seems like minimal support from WWE, and she’ll appear (along with her girlfriend) on the upcoming season of Total Divas.
2 . Fred Rosser, AKA Darren Young
I’d like to think that if Darren Young had debuted in WWE a few years later, things would have gone better for him. On the other hand, considering everything that still goes on there, it’s hard to be confident even in that. Young debuted in 2010 as part of Nexus, and publicly came out as gay in 2013. That made him the first WWE Superstar to come out while still actively wrestling. At the time, he was in the Prime Time Players tag team alongside Titus O’Neil. They briefly held the Tag Team Championship during a 2015 feud with the New Day, which was the only Title Darren held during his years in WWE.
The team was unceremoniously broken up in late 2015 without even a storyline to explain why, and Darren disappeared from TV for a while. He reemerged in 2016 with Bob Backlund as a manager and “Make Darren Young Great Again” for a slogan. The Donald Trump parody became even less funny after the election happened, and that storyline also ended without fanfare. Darren Young was released in 2017 while recovering from an arm injury. By that time, he’d barely been seen on WWE TV in more than a year.
Since his release, Fred Rosser has been wrestling on the indies under his own name. In 2018 he appeared in Big Time Wrestling and Chikara, as well as Nuclear Heat Wrestling, where he had a great match against another openly gay wrestler, Jake Atlas (more him in a bit). So far this year he hasn’t been in the ring, focusing on podcasting and working with LGBTQ charities. He hasn’t announced a retirement, however, so there’s a good chance we haven’t seen the last of Fred Rosser.
3. Charlie Morgan
Charlie Morgan, who you may have seen as a recurring guest on NXT UK, is the only pro wrestler I know of to come out as gay in a wrestling promo. In 2017 at the UK women’s promotion Pro Wrestling Eve, Nina Samuels was in the ring hinting at Morgan’s identity in a heelish way when Charlie grabbed the mic and said “I see what you’re trying to do! I see where you’re trying to go with that snide comment! What do you think, I’m scared to fucking say it? Do you think I’m going to shy away from the fact that I’m gay?” The crowd erupted in cheers, and Morgan went on to say that being gay doesn’t make any difference when it comes to wrestling, but that Eve is a place where everyone can be proud of being different. It’s a great babyface promo, and it doubles as a pretty great coming out speech.
Charlie Morgan continues to work at Pro Wrestling Eve, as well as her occasional appearances in NXT UK and working with American women’s promotions Shimmer and Rise. As concerned as I’d be about her potential treatment if she signed with WWE, I have to admit I’d be pretty excited to see her face Sonya Deville some day.
4. Sonny Kiss
Sonny Kiss is going places! He was an underused highlight of the last season of Lucha Underground, where he was known as XO Licious. Then he signed with All Elite Wrestling. He didn’t get nearly enough to do at Double Or Nothing, where he participated in the Casino Battle Royale, but he did have a memorably funny spot with Tommy Dreamer, and he at least made enough of an impression to make Jim Cornette uncomfortable, which is never a bad sign if you ask me. It’ll be really exciting to see where his AEW career goes from here, especially when the TV show starts this fall.
Sonny has explained that his effeminate persona is not a gimmick, it’s who he really is. While he’s expressed respect and affection for characters like Goldust and Velveteen Dream, he calls himself the “authentic version.” His wrestling persona also draws on the Exotico tradition from lucha libre, incorporating elements of drag while still presenting himself as a feminine but male figure. Being out as gay in pro wrestling is impressive enough, but being an unapologetic femme gay black man is a whole other level of breaking boundaries, especially in the US where Exoticos were never really a thing.
5. Nyla Rose
Most people didn’t know Nyla Rose before she signed with All Elite Wrestling. She’d worked with promotions like Covey Pro, Warriors of Wrestling, and Sendai Girls, but she didn’t really have any national exposure in the US. That changed all at once with AEW signing and her debut at Double Or Nothing, where she faced Kylie Rae, Britt Baker, and Awesome Kong in a Fatal Fourway. As a member of the AEW roster, Nyla is the first transgender wrestler to sign with a major promotion, and this fall she’ll presumably be the first trans wrestler to appear regularly on TV.
Being of indigenous descent, Nyla goes by the nickname “the Native Beast,” and isn’t afraid to use her substantial size to intimidate her competitors. It’s a far cry from the performance of demure femininity that most mainstream media demands of trans women (when they’re included at all), so she’s breaking ground in that regard as well. Nyla has room to grow as a wrestler and a performer, and hopefully AEW gives her space to be everything she can be.
6. Ashley Vox
Ashley Vox is one of the most promising young wrestlers on the East Coast indie scene, and she also happens to be an out lesbian. She never made any effort to hide her sexuality from the wrestling world. In fact her ex-girlfriend served as her manager for a while during their relationship, and the two were seen celebrating together when Ashley won the Chaotic Wrestling Women’s Championship in 2017. That’s the same belt that Sasha Banks held before signing with NXT, which gives it a little extra prestige.
A consummate indie worker, Ashley wrestles for so many companies that it’s hard to keep up. In addition to her singles work, she and her sister Delmi Exo are also a tag team known as the Sea Stars. In Chikara, where comic book storylines are the norm, her plucky Aquaman-inspired character evolved into the evil ruler of the sea Oceanea, who leads a faction of literal sea monsters. She has also appeared at Shimmer, Rise, Beyond, and Fest Wrestling, as well as making a televised appearance on Impact. Still in her 20s, Ashley seems like someone with a bright future in wrestling.
If you’ve never seen Effy wrestle, there’s a good chance you know him from Twitter, where he’s one of the most outspoken queer voices in the wrestling community. He came out and created the Effy character after recovering from substance abuse problems, and since then he’s been a sober queer ray of light on the indie wrestling scene, wrestling in fishnets and coming to the ring in fabulous bedazzled jackets. Unlike some performers who make the (very valid) claim that their sexuality doesn’t have anything to do with their wrestling, Effy seems determined to make wrestling as queer as possible (or at least to make it acknowledge how queer it’s always been). In fact, just a few days ago he announced the First Annual Twink Gauntlet, which happens next month at Timebomb Pro Wrestling in Fargo, North Dakota, of all places.
Effy also wrestles for Fest Wrestling, Freelance Wrestling, Livewire Wrestling, and many more. I’d love to see him get national exposure, as long as it’s with a company that will let him continue to be his big weird queer self. It’s clear that he wouldn’t be satisfied with anything less, and neither would his fans.
8. Jake Atlas
As a Mexican American kid growing up in Los Angeles, Jake Atlas was raised on lucha libre. He’s recounted in interviews that when he came out to his family as a teenager it didn’t go well. Nevertheless, Jake knew who he was, and he also knew he wanted to be a pro wrestler. In time his family came to accept and support him, and his dream of pro wrestling has also come true. He came out publicly after winning the 2017 Southern California Rookie of the Year Award, and he’s been on an upswing ever since.
Being based in Southern California gives Jake a lot of promotions to choose between without traveling far. In addition to being the SBW Champion and the PCW ULTRA Light Heavyweight Champion, he also appears at Bar Wrestling and All-Pro Wrestling among others, and he made his PWG debut this year. Still in his early 20s, Jake Atlas has the look, charisma, and in-ring skill to go far in this business, and it’s great to know that he’ll get to be his true self all the way.