Sonya Deville brings LGBTQ representation to WWE
WWE Superstar and mixed martial artist Sonya Deville is bringing LGBTQ representation to the world of American professional wrestling even as she’s set to become the next WWE champion.
Called “The Pride Fighter,” the 26-year old Deville actually became WWE’s first openly lesbian wrestler when she inadvertently outed herself on national television.
During her tryouts at the WWE Tough Enough reality series in 2015, she admitted to Paul “Triple H” Levesque that she had girlfriend.
Sonya Deville: A square peg in a round hole
Born as Daria Rae Berenato on 24 September 1993, she grew up in Shamong Township, New Jersey to Italian parents.
She went to Seneca High School in Tabernacle, New Jersey and at the age of 16, she took up mixed martial arts (MMA). Around 17, she moved out of the house to pursue and compete in MMA.
She said she grew up dating men for most of her life “up until I was probably 18 or 19.” But she added that her love life was like “trying to fit a square peg through a round hole.”
She finally got a realization when a friend’s mother told her she was gay. She thought: “I was like, ‘Whoa, I think she’s right’.”
When she was producing an independent film in South Jersey about two women falling in love, she played the lead. The girl she played opposite later on became her real-life girlfriend.
“We ended up kind of playing out the story and moving to LA together. That was my first real relationship with a female,” she told CBS during a 2019 interview.
Sonya Deville: An LGBTQ wrestler in WWE
Deville related that she was worried when she accidentally outed herself in 2015 as she hadn’t publicly announced it yet, and her girlfriend also hadn’t come out to her parents.
But she said that after that incident, “saying it out loud and saying it on such a public platform was probably what made me have to be comfortable with it.”
While she was eliminated during the Tough Enough competition, she was later signed up by WWE later that year to be part of the developmental brand, NXT.
During this period, she was competing under her real name, It was only in 2017 that she got her new ring name of Sonya Deville.
Last year, Sonya became the first gay cast member of the ninth season of the reality show Total Divas, about the work and personal lives of female WWE wrestlers.
However, she said that being gay is only a part of her: “I don’t want it to define me, and I don’t want it to take away from my career and what I’m capable inside of the ring.”
Sonya the heel or Sonya the advocate?
She said that Sonya’s current character as a “heel” (or bad in WWE parlance) is also the same as the Sonya who is using the WWE platform to push for greater LGBTQ visibility.
Speaking to Allure, she said: “I like to just have the little rainbow hankie in my back pocket or the shoelaces that I wear sometimes. It’s also just a subtle note to my LGBTQ community.”
Sonya’s advocacy can be seen in her work with Girl Up and GLAAD. She also participated during the New York City Pride Parade in 2019, during the World Pride Parade.
She revealed that there might be more authentic representation storylines on Monday Night Raw and Smackdown with the developing relationship between her, WWE, and GLAAD.
“I am a firm supporter and believer that it’s important to have that inclusion in our programming in the right, most appropriate, tasteful way,” she said.
But she also said: “I am willing to do something like that to make a social change and to really pioneer this movement in the right direction. Somebody has to do it, right?”