Wrestling fans often like to reminisce about how awesome everything was back in the Attitude Era, but one thing that was decidedly uncool was how pro wrestling made LGBTQ wrestlers stay in the closet while using kayfabe gay romance storylines for shock value or having a wrestler "play gay" to draw heat. In fact, when Goldust turned face, WWE made a big deal out of announcing his heterosexuality, while Billy Gunn and Chuck Palumbo pretended to marry in 2002, then stopped the ceremony to say "just kidding, ha ha, we’re not gay, either."

Ironically — or perhaps in an act of atonement — both Dustin Rhodes and Billy Gunn now work for AEW, which is one of the most LGBTQ-friendly organizations in all of professional sports. As the fabulous Sonny Kiss said "The Sessions with Renee Paquette," "I think that it’s awesome AEW allows all it’s LGBTQ talent to be themselves and allows everyone in the company to embrace that." WWE, too, has come a long way since the bad old days, although it’s interesting to note that three of the four NXT wrestlers featured in a 2021 Pride Month shoutout – namely Toni Storm, Mercedes Martinez, and Jake Atlas — would soon depart that company for AEW. It is not just the big companies that are becoming increasingly inclusive, though. From the indies to GCW to NJPW, WWE and AEW, here are some of wrestling’s biggest LGBTQ stars.

Allie Katch

Allie Katch, who leads off this list for alphabetical reasons, identifies as pansexual, having come out as such in a 2019 tweet. Pansexuality means that you’re capable of being attracted to anyone regardless of their orientation or gender identity. In Katch’s case, apparently she is also capable of being attracted to anyone no matter where they fall on the face/heel spectrum, since she once dated the devil himself, MJF.

Since her breakup with the evil one (Sportskeeda says this was in June of 2019, just months before she declared her orientation to the Twitterverse), Katch has been doing okay for herself. For one thing, she changed her name from the too-cutesy Allie Kat to Katch, as per Fightful. For another, she’s been appearing all over the place in the indies as well as having an Impact match in 2022 and an AEW appearance in 2021. She’s really, really over in Game Changer Wrestling, however, something that has drawn praise from former WWE superstar Mickie James. Not only does Katch wrestle solo in GCW, but she has partnered up with Effy in a tag team called Bussy or, as Katch has called the duo, Too Gay Power Trip. The twosome are a force to be reckoned with, winning the GCW tag team championship in April 2022 and successfully defending it until July.

Anthony Bowens

Anthony Bowens may be one of the best-known, most outspoken gay wrestlers, but it wasn’t too many years ago that he was nervous about coming out and how it might affect his career. As Bowens wrote in Outsports, the big reveal occurred in 2016 when his boyfriend mentioned their in a video he posted to his YouTube channel. Bowens, already a pro wrestler, was fearful that the backlash would be harsh, but he didn’t want to ask his boyfriend to take down the video. As it turns out, people were actually supportive, and even more so when he publicly announced his bisexuality on Facebook a few months later.

Early in 2019, Bowens came out yet again in a video posted to the YouTube channel he now shares with his partner Michael. In it, he clarified that he prefers to be "labeled" as gay. That video has over a quarter of a million views and nearly 7,000 likes, and Bowens may well now be the most over gay athlete in the sport. (After all, everybody but MJF loves The Acclaimed.) He is also AEW’s first openly gay belt holder, ever since September 2022 when he and Max Caster won the AEW World Tag Team Championship at "AEW Dynamite: Grand Slam."

Asuka/Veny

Lest there be any confusion, we’ll lead off by saying that this Asuka is not the Empress of Tomorrow. This Asuka, instead, is a young wrestler who’s making a name for herself in Japan. She’s appeared in the U.S. a few times, as well, but does so under the name of Veny since it beats being billed as "The Other Asuka." While in Japan, Asuka/Veny presents as genderless, but she has confirmed in a video on Japanese TV (and shared by r/squaredcircle) that her preferred pronoun is "she."

Last Word on Sports tells us that Asuka has been wrestling since high school and came out as gay at that time as well. Throughout her pro wrestling career, she has identified as transgender, although in Japan she prefers to present as genderless since she feels that audiences there are somewhat less accepting of her as a transwoman than international ones might be. As Veny, she wrestled a few AEW matches in 2021, and we hope to see her back there in the future. We’re not the only ones that feel this way, either — Hikaru Shida, who’s called Veny "the best High flyer in joshi pro wrestling," recently tweeted "I definitely have to bring VENY back to AEW."

Cassandro

Cassandro may be the best-known Exotico, a type of luchador that incorporates a drag queen aesthetic into their act. Although Exoticos’ campiness was originally seen as strictly kayfabe, Cassandro was the first such performer to come out as gay. In doing so, he broke ground for numerous other gay Exoticos who have reclaimed the trope and made it an empowering one rather than something meant to marginalize or make fun of the LGBTQ community. As Cassandro told the Wrestling Inc. podcast, "the first Exoticos, our old timers, they were mostly like the clowns at the circus … nowadays, we Exoticos, we’re flamboyant wrestlers that are truly wrestlers."

Cassandro may be mostly retired from the ring these days, and yet he’s hardly fading away into obscurity. He’s the subject of a 2020 film called "Cassandro, the Exótico!" that SupaModu describes as "breathtaking" and The New York Times calls "effervescent" and "infectious." Cassandro also main-evented Effy’s Big Gay Brunch in 2020. Effy told Wrestling Inc. that "Cassandro was nothing but the most gracious professional the whole time … I love Cassandro. She is so fun."

(Note on the pronouns: Effy referred to Cassandro in linguistically fluid fashion as he, she, and they during his interview with Wrestling Inc., but sources including Outsports and Gayly refer to him with masculine pronouns so we’ve followed this convention, as well.)

Darren Young

Darren Young wrestles these days under his given name of Fred Rosser and his primary promotion as of 2022 is New Japan Pro-Wrestling. The reason why we’ve listed him under his old WWE ring name is because this is what he was going by when he made history as the first-ever WWE wrestler to come out as gay, doing so in a 2013 TMZ interview. While he admits he was terrified about what the reaction would be, he told NewNowNext (now known as Logo News) "When I came out, guys I worked with, like Big Show, Randy Orton, CM Punk, Mark Henry … welcomed me with open arms." Even though Young was released from the company in 2017, four years after his coming out, he bears no grudge against Vince McMahon and says "I thank WWE for allowing me for so many years to use their platform to inspire others and live out my childhood dream."

Shortly after Young made his announcement about being gay, he was contacted by Cher. She told him that one of her friends found the courage to come out to his own family after hearing that there was an openly LGBTQ pro wrestler and Rosser has said that this spurred him on to a lifetime of activism both in and out of the ring. As he explains, he’s "trying to be the voice of the voiceless when it comes to our LGBTQ community."

Edith Surreal

When Edith Surreal was growing up in the ‘burbs outside of Philadelphia, she was a huge fan of Extreme Championship Wrestling, another Philly product. As she told The Philadelphia Inquirer, though, "In wrestling, there were very transphobic tropes that appeared on TV that were upsetting to me as a person." She felt unable to relate to the wrestlers she saw on TV, so when she grew up, she focused on making a career out of her art. All that changed in 2016, however, when she saw a presentation by the founder of a wrestling network. She signed up for a wrestling class and discovered she had quite a gift for it.

Originally Edith wrestled as Still Life With Apricots and Pears and it was under that name that she became one of the breakout stars of CHIKARA (via Last Word on Sports). Her name change didn’t come about because of CHIKARA’s demise, however, but was adopted in 2021 because she wanted to acknowledge her transition. As she explains, "Being a wrestler gave me the confidence to transition" and she wants to make sure that her fans, especially the LBGTQ ones, are aware of her identity as a trans woman. Perhaps remembering her own mixed feelings about wrestling as a child, she says "As a trans person, I want to show that we belong everywhere. We can compete and be a part of society and be loving and heroic and someone that anyone can look up to."

Effy

Effy, the other half of GCW’s former (and, we hope, future) tag team champs Bussy, may primarily wrestle in the indies, but there’s no doubt he’s just as much of a game changer as the promo of the same name. Effy, who’s said his name stands for "Electric, Fantastic, F*** You" (although as per his Instagram, it could also be "Electric, Fantastic & Forever Yours") walks out to "Goodbye, Yellow Brick Road." Jeff Jarrett, after wrestling a match with him at The Wrld On GCW, said how impressed he was by the fact that everyone in the GCW audience sang along with Effy’s Elton John theme.

Not only is Effy himself out and proud, but he’s created his own promo to showcase LGBTQ athletes called Effy’s Big Gay Brunch. As Effy told Metro, his goal with this event, as with everything he does, is to "make the wrestling environment that you’ve kind of imagined, that embraces creativity, that embraces people of all sexualities and genders and expressions, embraces the fact that diversity adds to stories."

Leyla Hirsch

Leyla Hirsch, who is Russian by birth but was raised in the U.S., has some truly "Legit" wrestling skills as she learned her sport by competing in high school and college. Two days after her 21st birthday, she turned pro and signed with Combat Zone Wrestling. A few years later, she made her first AEW appearance in a match against Hikaru Shida. While she didn’t get the "w" at that time, she did win her way onto AEW’s roster.

Hirsch, who is a lesbian, is not very outspoken about her private life, but Pro Wrestling Post says that she’s been together with fellow wrestler Ashley Vox for the past few years. She makes no secret of this, it’s just that she prefers to talk (or tweet) about wrestling, instead, and there’s not a thing wrong with that. Despite Hirsch’s reticence, Anthony Bowens, speaking with Watermark, has said of her, "People like myself … [and] Leyla, we’re trying to make the world and entertainment a better and safer place for our LGBTQ+ athletes."

Jake Atlas

Jake Atlas came out while he was still in the indies, so as per So Cal Uncensored, so when he signed on with WWE, he did so as a fully out gay man. Fred Rosser (the former Darren Young) spoke with Logo about Atlas in 2019, saying "I want to marry that kid because he is an incredible wrestler [and] he’s a beautiful human being." He also expressed his hope that WWE would give Atlas a call, hopes that were realized a year later. Prior to joining the company, Atlas had also called his shot by appearing on an episode of "Undercover Boss" and announcing his goal was "to become the first openly gay WWE world champion."

Well, not every dream can come true in the wrestling world. Even though Atlas did get his call to the big leagues, he never held a WWE title. Whatsmore, in 2021 he was let go from the company in one of the periodic purges of the late McMahon era. Atlas was subsequently signed by AEW, but never had a chance to earn any titles with this LGBT-friendly company, either. He hurt his knee in January 2022, and in May of that year, still sidelined by his injury, he was arrested for a domestic violence incident. TMZ reports that the charges were later dropped, but Atlas is no longer listed on the AEW roster.

Mercedes Martinez

Mercedes Martinez is someone who, according to Cagematch, has wrestled in every single year of the 21st century, a claim not many can make. Her career has actually been on an upward trajectory in latter years — in 2020, she signed on with WWE, and in 2022 she became All Elite. She was especially pleased with the latter job offer, saying in an interview with Them, "It is breathtaking to be honest … AEW is giving me the platform and the freedom to be me." She also noted with pride (pun intended), "On the AEW roster, we have so many members of the LGBTQ community … We are a part of this community that is so diverse and we’re giving the mainstream fans a different aspect of wrestling."

Martinez didn’t actually come out as a lesbian until 2019, but once she was out of the closet, she was all the way out. That same year, she took part in Rise’s Pride and Joy event where she went up against Cassandro. While she’s admitted to Outsports that coming out in her early wrestling days might have tanked her career, she’s thrilled to see how things have changed. "For me to still be a part of this business and see how the acceptance of the LGBTQ is now," she says, "It’s like, man, I just want to stay in this business forever."

Nyla Rose

Nyla Rose, as per Sports Illustrated, was the first out trans woman ever signed by a big-time American wrestling company, and Fightful adds that her 2020 win over Riho for the AEW Women’s World Championship had her making history as the first trans title holder, as well. Sadly, not all wrestling fans have treated the Native Beast with the respect she deserves. In 2021, a fan at ringside held up a sign reading "Nyla Rose is this guy’s dad." Rose simply flipped him off and got on with her match, prompting her wife Kel to tweet (as per Queer Insider) "My wife is the strongest person I know." Kel reportedly also ensured that the transphobe was ejected from the arena.

Rose, who is not only trans but also bisexual, Black, and, as per her nickname, Native, has had to face an entire spectrum of bigotry. Tragically, the life expectancy of a BIPOC transwoman is just 35 years, and as Rose told Outsports, "I have a little bit of guilt … that I get to live this full, fruitful life when theirs were snuffed out so early." She went on to say, though, "I can only hope and dream that things are changing for the better. To know people in my position and other people like myself, that hope becomes tangible." While Rose may play a monster heel on TV, in real life this warrior woman fights the good fight and serves as an inspiration to marginalized people everywhere.

Saraya

When Pro Wrestling Illustrated released their Women’s 150 for 2022, Outsports announced with pride that 19 of the women on the list were LGBTQ. On a slightly more disappointing note, they did point out that there hasn’t been a bi, lesbian, or transwoman at the top of the list since 2014 when the WWE’s Paige came in at number one. Well, Paige, who is now AEW’s Saraya (her real name) is back in the ring, so perhaps 2023 will be a different story if she performs at a high level.

Back in 2014, though, Saraya wasn’t widely known as being bisexual. She outed herself on an episode of "Total Divas" (of all places) the following year. As E! News reminds us, it was in a January 2015 episode where Paige admitted to having been with women. This led to a little awkward one-sided flirtation from Rosa Mendes.

Shayna Baszler

Shayna Baszler, the former MMA star-turned-wrestler, plays a tough-as-nails heel onscreen and in the ring, but offstage she’s fairly reticent about her personal life. She mostly tweets about wrestling-related subjects and her Instagram, as well, is also focused on wrestling and workouts. She does, however, share a number of sweet shots of her pitbull Isys, a pooch who even has her own Instagram account.

In 2013, however, Baszler did share with the MMA Roasted podcast: "I am currently seeing someone that happens to be a female," although she went on to explain that she doesn’t like to categorize herself as lesbian, bi, or any one particular thing. As she explained, "I’m not one of those people that would color myself black or white; this just happens to be where I’m at right now." Where Baszler’s at these days is not something she’s made public.

Sonny Kiss

Men’s wrestling often comes across as a parade of manly men each trying to out-macho the other, and indeed we do love this non-toxic, often cartoonish masculinity. What we love even more, however, is wrestlers like Sonny Kiss who feel free to fly in the face of gender and societal norms. Kiss, who uses either he/him or she/her pronouns (but never they/them, according to Out Front Magazine), may be listed on AEW’s men’s roster, but tells CBC’s Day 6, "Sonny Kiss is a breath of fresh air. Sonny Kiss is the girl next door. Sonny Kiss is, you know, that bad-ass b***h that will kick your butt."

The gender-fluid Concrete Rose, who’s been out of the closet since childhood, participated in AEW’s first-ever pay-per-view, 2019’s "Double or Nothing." In the wake of the event, Kiss came in for some hate speech from the often-controversial Jim Cornette. The eponymous host of "The Jim Cornette Experience" podcast spoke of the wrestler as "Sonny Kiss, who apparently got off his day job at the drag-show at the f***ing Tropicana … the transvestite or Exotico as they would say at AAA." Kiss, unfazed by the remarks, tweeted in response, "Sometimes, you have to let people’s words and actions speak for themselves. Good & bad" and followed up this statement by reassuring fans "his ‘attack’ was a complete fail. I’m good."

Sonya Deville

While Darren Young may have been the first openly gay WWE wrestler, Sonya Deville was the first woman on the roster to come out as LGBTQ. Deville was actually out at the time of her signing, since she’d admitted being in a lesbian relationship when appearing on the WWE reality show "Tough Enough." As Deville told Variety in a 2021 interview, "I honestly thought that was going to hurt my chances of getting hired. That’s just how naïve I was," adding "I didn’t accept myself, so I didn’t think anyone else was going to accept me. "Fortunately for her — and for all of us — this didn’t prove to be the case.

Deville not only proved herself tough enough for WWE, but she also had the skills and personality to be a good fit for the company. She was signed in 2015, the same year she came out, and, years later, she is probably the best-known and certainly the most outspoken LGBTQ member of the WWE roster. DeVille estimates that 70% of her fan base may come from within the community and says she’s always being messaged on social media by people asking her for advice on coming out or telling her what a positive influence she’s had on their lives. Deville doesn’t take her role as LGBTQ spokesperson lightly, either. As she says, inspiring others is "literally the reason I use my voice."

Tegan Nox

While most coming out stories tend to be pretty inspiring, Tegan Nox’s is extra special in that it actually saved someone’s life. Nox came out in 2020 by posting a couples photo with her partner Sierra St. Pierre. Although the post is no longer visible, Outsports says she captioned her share "Life is good," while St. Pierre, who’d posted the same photo on her page, used the caption "It’s hard being the famous one in the relationship." As to why Nox came out at that time, she revealed to Brie Larson that the movie actress had been her inspiration. In a video of when the two working out together she told Larson, "If it wasn’t for ‘Captain Marvel’ and yourself, especially with all the work you do outside of ‘Captain Marvel,’ there was no way I would have the power to come out to people with my sexual orientation and my mental health."

So how did Nox save someone’s life? One of her fans admitted that he’d been closeted for years, even going to the extent of dating women because he badly wanted his family to believe that he was straight. Seeing a WWE wrestler unafraid to share her bisexuality, as Nox told Pink News, "helped him come out and saved him from what he said was a very fatal time in his life." As far as we’re concerned, this makes Lady Kane somewhat of a superhero herself.

Toni Storm

When Toni Storm was chosen to host a takeover of NXT’s Instagram Stories during Pride Month of 2021, there were some who assumed it was because she was just a staunch ally of the LGBTQ+ community. In her introductory video (shared by NXT’s Twitter, as Instagram Stories are ephemeral), she came out in a rainbow hat and declared that she, too, is a letter in the QUILTBAG. (For those unfamiliar with this acronym, it’s meant to be a more inclusive — not to mention, fun to say — alternative to LGBTQ, with Bustle explaining that it stands for queer/questioning, undecided, intersex, lesbian, trans, bisexual, asexual, gay/genderqueer.) As Storm told the Instagram audience, "I can’t exactly say that I’m straight. I’m bi, and it feels good to say it."

Not only did NXT Twitter say "Thank you for sharing this with us, Toni Storm. We couldn’t be more proud," but she got a shout-out from Triple H, as well. The Game tweeted after the big announcement that he’s "Proud of Toni Storm today and everyday."

Despite all the apparent love from the company, however, Storm would part ways with WWE some 6 months later. Once her 90-day no-compete clause was up, though, she was right back in the ring with AEW and her new company seems to be pretty proud of her, too.