Who is Sonya Deville? WWE’s first openly-lesbian wrestler will make history at WrestleMania

An estimated million viewers will watch WrestleMania, World Wrestling Entertainment’s (WWE) biggest event of the year, on Sunday. And the history-making show will feature WWE’s first openly lesbian wrestler.

Sonya Deville—real name Daria Berenato—is set to compete in the first-ever WrestleMania women’s battle royal at the event alongside other female competitors including Sasha Banks, Bayley and her Absolution teammate and best friend Mandy Rose. The match will stream for free on YouTube, Facebook and WWE Network on Sunday night as part of the WrestleMania Kickoff show.

Deville first opened up about her sexuality during the 2015 season of WWE’s reality TV competition series, Tough Enough. Deville was one of the contestants vying for a contract with WWE on that show.

The reveal came when the show’s judges asked if she was in a relationship. Deville responded: “I don’t have a wife yet, but I have a girlfriend.”

(Twitter/Sonya Deville)

In an interview with New Jersey’s 6ABC News after the episode aired, Deville said the matter-of-fact reveal wasn’t planned.

“I’ve gotten so much generosity and so much love so far. People from all kinds of LGBT organisations reaching out saying, ‘What you did was amazing, thank you for representing our families,’ and that kind of stuff,” said the former mixed martial arts (MMA) fighter.

“If I can help people in this process and be a voice to people who might be intimidated of coming out themselves or are scared to or think that it’s wrong and they see me doing it in front of pretty big people in the WWE world, hopefully it will give them the courage to do it.”

Deville didn’t last long very long on Tough Enough, but impressed WWE executives offered her a developmental contract regardless.

WWE’s Absolution team: Mandy Rose, Paige and Sonya Deville (WWE)

She began appearing regularly on the WWE Network show, WWE NXT, from May 2017, before joining WWE’s main roster in November with Mandy Rose. Together with veteran wrestler, Paige, they form the group Absolution.

Since joining the cast of WWE’s popular show Monday Night Raw, Deville has made history by competing in the first women’s Elimination Chamber match in February.

But whether it be in the ring or out, Deville, 24, is also making history by representing the LGBT+ community on WWE programming.

Earlier this week, Deville praised WWE for releasing a new T-shirt devoted to wrestler Finn Balor that features the rainbow flag. 20 percent of proceeds from the inclusive tee will go to LGBT+ organisation GLAAD.

“I proudly support this message! Being a part of the LGBT community myself  in the @WWE its such a great feeling to see @FinnBalor speaking out with such an amazing positive message! ️‍ #EQUALITY,” she wrote.

In a Reddit thread that went viral on Thursday, one previously closeted fan thanked Deville for inspiring them to come out.

“For an extremely long time I believed that I should hide who I was. When I was in high school, I joined the Gay-Straight Alliance as a way to be close to the LGBT community without coming out, per say. I even became the president by my senior year. However, there was still something in me (maybe religion, maybe friends’ judgment, maybe family, etc.) that held me back. I constantly debated whether I should come out as bisexual,” said Redditor thegraceofaccuracy.

“I had read on [Reddit] actually that [Deville] was gay and then I followed her on social media,” the user continued.

“Her pride posts just bring me such joy and comfort as I adjust to being out. Her post yesterday about Finn’s shirt affected me in a huge way and because of her I came out to my mom after years of hiding it. And it went relatively well.

“Anyway, I hope this is okay to post and I just wanted to thank her. I also want to thank WWE for moving in the right direction with LGBT representation. It truly does make a difference and if people don’t know why it matters, consider me an example.”