Around the world, the month of June is widely recognized as Pride Month — a month filled with celebration and festivity for those who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer. Because of its growth in popularity over the years, many cities begin to organize their 3-day weekend celebrations in May and they continue throughout each week, in different cities, until the end of June. A festival filled with games, activities, and various booths promoting different charities, organizations, and clubs within the LGBTQ+ community, as well as concerts and celebrity appearances, all precede a parade that showcase elaborate floats, community marching bands, supportive businesses, and city government officials amongst other participants, all marching down to commemorate Pride.
Why June? The Stonewall riots took place in June 1969 where various protesters in the LGBTQ+ community began to uprise against the police raids that would occur in NYC at gay bars; it was once illegal to be openly gay in the U.S. because there was no legislation protecting the community. Since, however, we have seen major improvement in gay rights such as the legalization of same-sex marriage. Why Pride? Many wonder how it is possible to be proud of something that you did not accomplish, choose, nor have any control of. When you, or those just like you, have been suppressed, ignored, beaten, and even killed for that exactly, you have no choice but to appreciate your literal and figurative survival. That appreciation comes in all forms. Some express themselves through prosperity, others through art, and many in silence, but most have a common realization that we are to be proud, as a community, that we overcame adversity.
Eighteen months ago, I boldly stated that I was proud to be Southern California’s first openly gay recipient to the annual Rookie of the Year award. It was a single tweet with a photo attached of a screenshot explaining why it was important for me to declare that. Fast forward to now, I have so much more confidence in knowing that I made the right decision. The opportunities that have been presented to me since, have allowed me to believe that it is my talent, nothing more and nothing less, that has led to me exceed my own expectations. I continue to strive for bigger and better while carrying a significant amount of weight on my shoulders in representing the LGBTQ+ community. Do not be mistaken, though, as it is not about me. It never has been. Over the course of my career thus far, people have read countless interviews, watched few mini-documentaries, and even tuned in to a popular TV series on national television “detailing my life” as an openly gay professional wrestler. The reality is: I am only 24; I have yet to scratch the surface of what I have to experience in my life, good or bad. I have had no major accomplishment.
For me, however, it has always been about my journey, rather than the “trophy”, and exposing that to the youth of the LGBTQ+ community. When I began coaching gymnastics at 17, I grew a passion for our youth. As a society, we can sometimes disregard the importance of the future of civilization. When you see a newborn taking its first steps, a toddler engaging at a playground, or a teenager graduating high school, you are looking at a future artist, athlete, doctor, Congressperson, or scientist — so we hope. The development of their childhood and adolescence is crucial to their future. What is endured early on in life affects their personal outlook on aspirations as maturation ensues.
Visibility is the degree to which something has attracted general attention and inclusion is the action or state of being included within a group or structure. Imagine a young child having spent the majority of their upbringing watching romance develop in front of their eyes between a male and a female only; imagine that though they are more than likely not aware of their sexuality, they can identify, purely on instinct, that they cannot relate to what is being presented; imagine this creating constant confusion, fear, and unsettlement in their young cognitive and emotional evolution. Well, it is not imagination. Unfortunately, it’s reality.
Professional wrestling has been long considered a masculine sport. Romantic storylines always featured relationships between the opposite sex, champions have mostly all been heterosexual, and anything remotely gay-oriented was considered taboo, a joke, or an attraction. It is not news that professional wrestling has a huge fanbase that identifies as LGBTQ+. The “market” is there and always has been, but it was afraid to come out. Sound familiar? There was a fear of being shunned, exiled, or banned from attending wrestling events because of mannerisms, wardrobe, voice, companionship, physical appearance, and other natural forms of human expression that did not fit the mold of a typical ‘wrestling fan.’ I can relate wholeheartedly to that feeling. Nevertheless, times have certainly changed.
A few months ago, at Pro Wrestling Guerrilla’s 200th event, a fan shouted out to one of my opponents that he should, “fuck that f****t up!” Of course, to me, performing at PWG is greater than any uneducated, unfortunate person, so I was unaware of the slur until after my match. It warmed my heart to find out that they were booed and spectators around them stood up in my defense. It reassured me that what we are doing is working. My role as an athlete is to provide entertainment and influence fitness, competitiveness, and sport to a participating audience. As an openly gay athlete in professional wrestling, my role now becomes to ensure visible affirmation that we can be included — that we belong, as performers and as spectators.
Over the last decade, we have made strides of progress in all forms of entertainment. We have had the first openly gay NFL player, more celebrities have expressed their fluidity in sexuality, a film featuring a queer person of color has won the Academy Award for Best Picture, and in our world, we have had openly gay pro wrestlers come to prominence (most notably those in the WWE with the likes of Fred Rosser and Sonya Deville.) We have showed major progress over the years on the independent wrestling scene as well with various promotions showing their support by allowing more LGBTQ+ identified wrestlers to compete. Recently, newly formed wrestling organization All Elite Wrestling, whose roster includes LGBTQ+ wrestlers Sonny Kiss and Nyla Rose, signed a major television network deal with TNT that would showcase the aforementioned community athletes to a mainstream audience.
Pro wrestling, in my eyes, is a cultural phenomenon. It commands attention and perseveres through global setbacks. The most significant demographic are kids. Kids need role models. Kids need to know that everything they dream of can be attained. Through representation and celebration, we can achieve life’s greatest feats. Our world is constantly changing and we must find ways to adapt the good. The media needs to show the youth the endless possibilities ahead of them so that the journey of life is relate-able to all. Too many are being lost, from all backgrounds, because of hate, negligence, and ignorance. We are all ONE community and when we celebrate together in support of those that are different than ourselves then we have realized our greatest potential.
To everyone that has reached out to me, fellow LGBTQ-identified wrestlers, or expressed support on social media with regards to Pride month, please remember that it does not go unnoticed. The Pride voice matters, this month and every month thereafter. We celebrate because we must. I hope that you join me in the fight for inclusion, a fight that transcends wrestling, sexuality, and politics. I wish everyone a Happy Pride Month. With Los Angeles Pride coming up this weekend, I hope everyone is safe and has a wonderful experience!
P.S. If you are looking to make any donations towards LGBTQ+ organizations this month, some locals include the It Gets Better! campaign, The Trevor Project foundation, and/or the Los Angeles LGBT Center.