Like in most sports and related industries, the battle for equality among minorities and women in professional wrestling has been one hell of an uphill battle. Despite all of the non-white WWE Superstars to have ever held a title in the company, the number of those who have been given the opportunity to represent the company as a world champion is still so small that it is nothing short of embarrassing for WWE. Though women still have a long fight ahead of them as it pertains to equal representation alongside their male counterparts, women’s wrestling has made great strides over the past two years, before which women were a sideshow known as “Divas.”
Perhaps no group has a rougher battle to fight for representation in pro wrestling than the LGBTQ community. Some on the independent scene are wearing their sexual identities on their sleeves and are finding plenty of success, but WWE, despite having made all sorts of public hoopla about equality over the years, still struggles to find a way to incorporate the LGBTQ community. There have, however, been a handful of instances over the years of gay characters in wrestling, though they certainly haven’t all been hits. Here are eight WWE stars who perfectly nailed the role of a gay character and seven others who were terrible at it.
15 Perfect: Rosa Mendes
The case of Rosa Mendes is perhaps the complete mirror opposite of that of Sable. While Sable had a whole slew of moments on her resume that will see that she is always remembered by the WWE Universe, Rosa Mendes did almost nothing that anyone will ever remember her for. That’s quite sad considering she spent over a decade under contract with WWE, but if there’s one thing the audience might actually remember her for it is that she came out of the closet as bisexual on the hit reality series Total Divas.
The jury is still out on whether or not it was all just a hoax for ratings as anything that happens on Total Divas is up for debate regarding its legitimacy, but it is definitely the most interesting thing Rosa ever did in her WWE career and if she’s not really bisexual, her crush on Paige was certainly well played.
14 Terrible: Chuck Palumbo
Those who were fans of pro wrestling in the early 2000s can probably take one look at the name Chuck Palumbo on a list like this and know right where this is headed. Chuck, along with WWE legend Billy Gunn (whom we will talk about later) was at the center of one of the most offensive and horrendously booked angles in WWE history when they were paired together as on-screen lovers. The romance was ambiguous at first, with a plethora of “comical” skits full of poorly disguised innuendo, and later on, it was explicit as they decided to get married.
The same-sex union was all set to go down on an episode of SmackDown with Stephanie McMahon, who was the General Manager of the show at the time, present in the ring and as proud as she could be. The whole wedding was revealed to be a sham, however, an angle used by Billy and Chuck to gain notoriety, and was one of the worst storylines ever.
13 Perfect: Paul Heyman
Like a few other names on this list, to say that Paul Heyman played a gay character on WWE television might be a bit of a stretch. Nonetheless, Heyman has certainly pushed the boundaries of such an angle on a few occasions and never in a more obvious fashion than when he aligned himself with Ryback a few years ago. WWE wanted Heyman on TV more often than they had access to Heyman’s usual client, Brock Lesnar, so they began to have him manage a handful of other Superstars. When Ryback was lucky enough to bask in Heyman’s spotlight for a while, Paul’s character seemed absolutely smitten with Ryback, calling him beautiful, kissing him softly on the cheek and even dropping down on one knee and “proposing” that Ryback become a Paul Heyman guy.
Like most of his work, Paul Heyman nailed it.
12 Terrible: Orlando Jordan
Orlando Jordan became mostly known for his time as a member of JBL’s cabinet as the latter enjoyed a lengthy run on SmackDown as the WWE Champion. Though it was technically never taken advantage of by WWE, Orlando Jordan was openly bisexual and when he joined Total Nonstop Action Wrestling a few years later that company decided it would cash in on what was sure to be big bucks. TNA thought they could do something exciting that had never been done before by having Orlando Jordan oversexualized for the cameras and embracing his bisexuality.
In reality, the whole thing came off as if TNA was making a carnival out of him and playing off of many bad LGBTQ stereotypes, which was offensive to many and just made for bad television.
11 Perfect: Adrian Adonis
The massive wall of a man known as Adrian Adonis was one of the more unique characters the World Wrestling Federation ever produced. There is little that’s actually perfect about the scenario in which Adonis made his career so memorable; in fact, there were so many hurtful messages sent (after all, this was 1980s wrestling) that it was difficult to truly appreciate what was great about it. Many wrestlers, even the heroes of the crowd, shamed Adonis and seemed completely disgusted by the fact that he wore dresses and makeup. In turn, Adonis was cast as a vicious heel.
But Adrian Adonis managed to take a tremendously offensive situation and play it to his advantage, and he was believable in the role. No one else could have played such a part like he did.
10 Terrible: Sable
Rena “Sable” Lesnar did a lot of things right. She was one of the hottest sex symbols in wrestling history and her looks alone will probably be enough to send her straight to the WWE Hall of Fame one day. Sable’s lasting legacy as one of the original WWE Divas will see her go down as one of the top icons of the Attitude era, even though she had little in the way of wrestling ability or charisma in front of the cameras.
She was beloved by fans for just being Sable, but during her second run with the company she tended to very seductively toy with her fellow Diva Torrie Wilson. Sable and Torrie had countless steamy and suggestive encounters on television, but none of it was believable as anything more than a blatant and cheap way to pander to the audience for ratings.
9 Perfect: Goldust
Goldust is still currently wrestling for WWE and is apparently in the best shape of his life. It remains to be seen if he plans on slowing down anytime soon but under his current ring name alone the legendary grappler has been going since the Attitude era in the late 1990s. In the earliest days of Dustin Runnels’ career as Goldust, the character was incredibly edgy and would touch and feel around on his male opponents. Of course, this was not a perfect scenario even for the time period, as he was playing the creepy heel and the men he wrestled were utterly terrified of his sexuality. However, Goldust made an icon of himself by owning and committing to the character, which will go down as one of the most memorable in WWE history.
8 Terrible: Rico
Perhaps the biggest claim to fame for former WWE Superstar Rico was that he was the manager for the Billy and Chuck, the aforementioned tag team who was actually a fake gay couple on WWE television. Rico was effeminate, sure, but once he set out on a new storyline alongside Charlie Haas and Jackie Gayda, who later became known as “Miss Jackie,” he really turned up the volume on the character.
Suddenly Rico was sporting face paint and he and Miss Jackie were covered in glitter. Rico truly committed to the part, but it was much too late for such a poor and over the top attempt at introducing a gay character in WWE. All the bright colors and extreme camp were just too much for this angle to really go anywhere.
7 Perfect: Mickie James
It is obvious that WWE has been no stranger to building some of the most offensive gay storylines to ever be seen on television. Many of us have begun to wonder if the company will ever be capable of pulling off the simple act of presenting a respectable LGBTQ character, but if there has ever been one time they’ve come close to getting it right it was with Mickie James.
Granted, Mickie’s gay storyline presented her as the villain, but her evil ways were not as a result of her sexuality. In the storyline, Mickie James debuted with WWE as an obsessed Trish Stratus fan. She was utterly in love with the future WWE Hall of Famer, but to a fault. Mickie eventually went insane because Trish didn’t return her romantic feelings and began making her life a living hell. This led to one of the best women’s matches in WrestleMania history between Mickie and Trish and will go down as one of the most well-constructed women’s rivalries of all time.
6 Terrible: Dawn Marie
In the early 2000s after Vince McMahon bought out ECW, he signed one of that company’s biggest female talents, Dawn Marie, to a contract. Dawn was only around for a few years but managed to be at the center of one of the era’s most memorable storylines, for better or for worse. As the story went, Dawn Marie became interested in Al Wilson, the fictional father of WWE Diva Torrie Wilson, for his money. The two were eventually married and Al passed away.
This string of events led to a lengthy feud between Dawn and Torrie, but what actually made the entire program awful was when Dawn blackmailed Torrie into meeting her at a hotel room and apparently having sex. The scene was just awkward and made no sense in the scope of the story, and like other angles around this time was simple ratings fodder.
5 Perfect: Darren Young
Darren Young might have otherwise gone down as one-half of the Prime Time Players, a forgettable tag team with Titus O’Neil, had he never came out as a gay man to TMZ cameras a few years back. This announcement made major waves and for a while, Darren Young was the talk of the WWE Universe. WWE rightly congratulated him and stood by his side, and thankfully never exploited it in any offensive way.
Darren Young’s character, according to Stephanie McMahon, was never gay, and it is up in the air as to whether or not that is still the case since this statement from Stephanie was a couple of years ago. Darren seemingly incorporated elements of his identity as a gay man into his character’s presentation following this, and there is no one who could be more genuine at playing WWE’s first respectable, big gay character than Darren Young.
4 Terrible: Heidenreich
Back in the early 2000s, WWE introduced a man named Jon Heidenreich to the WWE Universe, a massive powerhouse of a man who would go on to hold the WWE Tag Team Championship alongside a legendary partner in Road Warrior Animal as the new Legion of Doom. Heidenreich may have since gone forgotten by the majority of the wrestling fan base, but those of us who were unlucky enough to see his endlessly uncomfortable scene with Michael Cole will unfortunately never forget him.
During a heel run, Heidenreich kidnapped Michael Cole from the commentary table during an episode of SmackDown and took him to a dark, closed room backstage. He assaulted Cole in a very suggestive way and appeared to have a sadistic romantic interest in him. The whole thing was probably just done for shock value, but no matter the reason it was incredibly disturbing.
3 Perfect: Pat Patterson
Pat Patterson is one of the few names on this list who not only played gay on television but actually is gay in real life. Patterson’s recent autobiography was called Accepted: How the First Gay Superstar Changed WWE and shed some serious light on the journey of a gay man in the world of professional wrestling, and though his peers actually knew for a very long time that Pat was gay his announcement of the fact on the WWE Network show Legends’ House is recognized by WWE as his official coming out story.
To say that Patterson’s sexuality was never used for his TV persona isn’t entirely true, either, as his comical appearances during the Attitude era were often accompanied by inside jokes from Jerry “The King” Lawler and Jim Ross regarding his homosexuality.
2 Terrible: Billy Gunn
We’ve spoken already of the awful storyline between Chuck Palumbo and Billy Gunn over a decade and a half ago, but it was just so terrible that it calls for another visit. Both men deserve equal blame for just how offensive this entire thing was, but Billy Gunn was certainly the bigger name of the two. In fact, Billy was one of the biggest names of the Attitude era before this storyline went down, ensuring that he would be more of a focal point during his angle with Palumbo.
Billy Gunn has played somewhat effeminate roles for most of his wrestling career, and though his time as Chuck’s “life partner” will always be the worst Billy has never been believable as anything but a straight man having fun at the cost of offending others.
1 Perfect: Sonya Deville
Daria Berenato first showed her face to the WWE Universe as a member of the company’s Tough Enough competition. Tough Enough seeks to find the next WWE Superstars and while Daria was eliminated early from the program she later would ink a deal and report to the WWE Performance Center for training. She has since made her debut for NXT under her new ring name Sonya Deville and is officially WWE’s very first openly gay female Superstar.
While this is real life, the fact that Sonya is out as a lesbian and the company has not attempted to silence it, it would seem to indicate that her wrestling persona is gay as well, and who can play a gay character better than someone who lives it every day of her life?