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“The Pride Fighter,” superstar WWE’s Out Sonya Deville at LA Pride

“I think every year it kind of means something a little bit different just as I evolve in my journey and get more comfortable with who I am”

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Out lesbian wrestler Daria Berenato (L) & her partner Toni Cassano (Screenshot/Twitter account Berenato)

HOLLYWOOD – Out lesbian wrestler Daria Berenato, known worldwide by her WWE stage-name Sonya Deville “The Pride Fighter,” is attending her very first L.A. Pride Parade Sunday, walking with NFL players along Hollywood Boulevard.

I’m like super stoked,” Berenato told me in a Zoom chat before the parade stepped off. She posted messages for fans from the parade on her social media.

In 1970, the march made history as the first-ever permitted LGBTQ+ parade in the world. Berenato has previously attended World Pride in New York City in 2019, as well as the Pride Parade in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., that same year.

Berenato, 28, came out as lesbian in 2015, when a WWE judge asked her during an interview before a worldwide television audience if she was in a relationship. “I don’t have a wife yet, but I have a girlfriend,” Berenato said. The former MMA fighter didn’t win the Tuff Enough reality show, but she did sign a contract as the first out lesbian wrestler in the WWE.

“I came out on the premiere episode of the first reality show I did, and it was not intentional, and it was not something that I had thought about or planned,” Berenato told me. “I was scared and I didn’t know what it was going to mean for me. I didn’t know if it was good or bad. I was really kind of just flying by the seat of my coattails, waiting to see it all play out. And it’s been it’s been a really positive experience for me.

Like many things, her relationships have changed over the past seven years. But what hasn’t changed is her commitment to representation of the LGBTQ+ community. If anything’s it’s only deepened.

“It’s something that’s super important because I went through that same journey that a lot of people are going through in the LGBTQ community, which is struggling with my sexuality and being open about it,” Deville told Outsports contributor Brian Bell on their LGBT In The Ring podcast in April.

Berenato made headlines again last month at the Netflix premiere of Stranger Things, by publicly kissing her girlfriend, model and fitness enthusiast Toni Cassano. Since then, they’ve been sharing their love story with their social media followers.

“We’ve been together for a few months now and it’s been the most incredible few months of any relationship I’ve ever been in,” said Berenato. “It’s just been so fun and so easy and so exciting and motivating. She’s like right here with me when it comes to work ethic and hustle and grinding and motivation. So we’re kind of just like neck and neck, grinding together and individually, every single day.”

Having finally found love, Berenato talked about what Pride means to her.

“I think every year it kind of means something a little bit different to me, just as I evolve in my journey and get more comfortable with who I am and my sexuality,” she said. “I feel like it’s different every year. It used to be I would watch from afar and I would wish I could be out there, but I just wasn’t ready yet. And so now it’s a thing where I embrace it and I get to go out and do these events and I feel comfortable doing so. And now I get the opportunity to use my voice and my platform to speak out for what we believe in, and for the community, and hopefully create a safer, more open environment in sports, entertainment and in WWE, for those looking to join, and watch, and letting them know that it’s a very inclusive space in WWE, and if I’m here, we all can be here.”

Berenato also has a commitment to her favorite snack food: donuts. What started several years ago as a YouTube series with her friend and business partner, Mandy Rose, morphed into a popular website and an online store. And now, she revealed in this interview, that they are about to turn their passion into a brick and mortar business.

“So myself and Mandy Rose, who is also a WWE superstar and my former tag team partner and best friend, we own a donut company. We started a kind of social media donut show five, six years ago now, and we saw that it piqued people’s interest and people were interested in watching us eat donuts and talk about them. And so we started a YouTube series a few years back where we traveled the globe for WWE, and whatever city we were in, we would just try the local donut shop and then we would rate them. And it kind of became this thing that we didn’t think it would become, and our fans loved it and it was super just fun and lighthearted, just something we could interact with the fans by doing,” Berenato told me.

DaMandyz Donutes
(Screenshot from DaMandyz Donutz website. DAMANDYZ DONUTZ)

“And so eventually we were like, ‘Wait, we’ve tasted like every donut in America. Why don’t we create our own donut line and make it super true to what we like in a donut?’ Because we became like aficionados of donuts at this point. And so here comes our baby, DaMandyz Donutz. We have a website, DaMandyz.com, where we sell a lot of cool, fun merch and stuff. But now we are launching our first official donut spot in Los Angeles. And this is the first interview I’ve ever said that in, but it will be available via delivery service. So you guys will be able to go on your food delivery app—not going to say which one yet—and order DaMandyz Donutz, probably within the next few months, for sure.”

Berenato said next year her company will consider making a Pride donut to go with the merchandise already on sale at their site, and plans to expand beyond L.A.

“We’re definitely going to be coming to more cities,” she said.

A Night Of Pride With GLAAD And NFL
Sonya Deville attends ‘A Night Of Pride’ with GLAAD and NFL on February 10, 2022 in Inglewood
(Photo Credit: NFL/GLAAD)

In August 2020, a South Carolina man obsessed with Berenato was arrested for stalking and attempting to kidnap her, after he broke into her Florida home and came face to face with the wrestler and Rose. He spent a year behind bars until he was finally transferred to a mental health facility because he was deemed unfit to stand trial.

I asked her how she deals with haters, and those who pose a threat to her and those she cares about.

I don’t think I’ve really figured it out yet,” she said. “I feel like I’m just kind of taking it day by day and trying to figure out where that line is. I mean, at the end of the day, I choose to be in the spotlight and I choose to share my story and my journey to an extent with the fans, because I think that it could help. And I remember being 19 years old, 20 years old, closeted and not comfortable with my sexuality, and kind of like, earning for that representation in the public eye. And so I take pride in that, so I don’t ever regret putting myself out there, but I do think I take more precautions now than I did in the beginning, just to make sure the people around me and myself can share our story, but in a safe space. And I just encourage the fans always to appreciate that and respect that that we love you guys, and we want to interact with you guys and we want to have fun, and be able to DM you back, and message you back and interact. But you know, they got to know where the line is, too.”

Berenato’s other project this Pride Month is promoting merchandise from WWE to benefit GLAAD, following her support of the NFL’s collaboration with the LGBTQ+ media advocacy organization.

Asked about the controversies involving trans athletes in sports and Gov. Ron DeSantis’ anti-LGBTQ laws and policies in Florida, Berenato chose her words carefully, sidestepping any political stance, but made it clear she is a supporter of equality.

“I’ll just say we’re all equal and who you are and how you identify is who you are and how you identify. And that’s what I’ll respect and understand,” she said. “I don’t ever get political, just for my own sanity in mind. But yeah, I think my messaging is super simple: I obviously believe in equality. I accept everyone as they are, who they are, how they identify. And I think that everyone should be welcome in a conversation about who we are should never be frowned upon.”

Where does Berenato see herself in five years, or a decade from now? She told me she’s focused on where she is right now, with the WWE.

“I love it here and I feel like I’m in the mental space where I want to stay here as long as I can stay here” said Berenato. “I’m been a competitor my entire life. I’ve played sports all through high school, straight from high school. I got into MMA. and straight from MMA, I got to the WWE, so I don’t know what it would be like to not be competing in some sort of way. So, yeah, I’m a lifer. I want to be here as long as I can. And then I would love to dIve into other things. I’m building a brand and I speak for fitness and health and wellness, but I’m also an entrepreneur with these donuts, and I take a lot of pride in that. And I also love film and television and would love to dive into some acting roles as well. So I kind of have my hands in a few different things. But yeah, WWE is and will be my main focus for the extended future that I can see.”

Follow Daria Berenato on Twitter by clicking here and on Instagram here.

The preceding article was previously published by Forbes magazine and is republished with permission

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Carrying a Pride flag- protester interrupts World Cup game

Qatar’s laws against gay sex and treatment of LGBTQ people were flashpoints in the first World Cup to be held in the Middle East

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Screenshot of news coverage at the World Cup 2022 games from Al Jazeera

LUSAIL, Qatar – During a World Cup match between Portugal and Uruguay Monday, a lone protester ran across the field waving a LGBTQ+ Pride flag moments after the second half kickoff.

Video and still images show the man wearing a blue T-shirt emblazed with the Superman symbol and the phrase “SAVE UKRAINE” on the front and “RESPECT FOR IRANIAN WOMAN” on the back.

Screenshot of news coverage at the World Cup 2022 games from Al Jazeera

Qatari security personnel chased him down and then frog marched him off the playing field. Israeli Public Radio correspondent Amichai Stein tweeted video clips of the incident:

FIFA had no immediate comment on the incident the Associated Press noted reporting that in the first week of the tournament in Qatar, seven European teams lost the battle to wear multi-colored “One Love” armbands during World Cup matches. Fans also complained they weren’t allowed to bring items with rainbow colors, a symbol of LGBTQ rights, into the stadiums of the conservative Islamic emirate.

Qatar’s laws against gay sex and treatment of LGBTQ people were flashpoints in the run-up to the first World Cup to be held in the Middle East. Qatar has said everyone was welcome, including LGBTQ fans, but that visitors should respect the nation’s culture.

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Blinken criticizes FIFA over threat to fine World Cup team captains with ‘one love’ armbands

Qatar criminalizes homosexuality by death

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Secretary of State Antony Blinken (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

DOHA, Qatar — Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Tuesday criticized FIFA over its threat to sanction European soccer teams if their captains wore “one love” armbands during the 2022 World Cup.

“It’s always concerning from my perspective when we see any restrictions on freedom of expression. It’s especially so when the expression is for diversity and for inclusion,” Blinken told reporters during a press conference with Qatari Foreign Minister Mohammed Bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani in Doha, the Qatari capital. “And in my judgment, at least, no one on a football pitch should be forced to choose between supporting these values and playing for their team.”

Seven European soccer teams on Monday announced their captains will not wear LGBTQ+ and intersex armbands during the 2022 World Cup after FIFA threatened to sanction them.

The captains of Belgium, Denmark, England, Germany, the Netherlands, Switzerland and Wales had planned to wear the armbands in support of the LGBTQ+ and intersex community during the World Cup. The teams on Monday in a joint statement said they would not wear the armbands because FIFA had threatened to sanction them if their captains did.

The World Cup began in Qatar on Sunday.

Qatar is among the handful of countries in which consensual same-sex sexual relations remain punishable by death. A report that Human Rights Watch published last month noted several cases of “severe and repeated beatings” and “sexual harassment” of LGBTQ+ and intersex people while in police custody from 2019 and September 2022. 

A State Department official last week acknowledged to the Washington Blade that the U.S. raised LGBTQ+ and intersex rights with the Qatari government ahead of the World Cup.

The U.S. men’s soccer team while in Qatar will have a redesigned logo with the Pride flag in its badge. Blinken attended their match against Wales on Monday.

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European soccer teams won’t wear ‘one love’ armbands after FIFA sanctions threat

World Cup began in Qatar on Sunday

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Iran plays England during the 2022 World Cup in Qatar on Nov. 21, 2022. (Screenshot via FS1)

DOHA, Qatar — Seven European soccer teams on Monday announced their captains will not wear LGBTQ+ and intersex armbands during the 2022 World Cup after FIFA threatened to sanction them.

The captains of Belgium, Denmark, England, Germany, the Netherlands, Switzerland and Wales planned to wear “one love” armbands during the World Cup. The teams in a joint statement said FIFA threatened to sanction them if their captains wore them.

“We were prepared to pay fines that would normally apply to breaches of kit regulations and had a strong commitment to wearing the armband. However, we cannot put our players in the situation where they might be booked or even forced to leave the field of play,” read the statement. “We are very frustrated by the FIFA decision, which we believe is unprecedented.”

“As national federations, we can’t put our players in a position where they could face sporting sanctions including bookings,” added the statement.

The World Cup began in Qatar on Sunday.

Qatar is among the handful of countries in which consensual same-sex sexual relations remain punishable by death.

Human Rights Watch last month published a report that noted “arbitrary” arrests of LGBTQ+ and intersex people between 2019 and September 2022 and several cases of “severe and repeated beatings” and “sexual harassment in police custody” during the aforementioned period. World Cup Ambassador Khalid Salman earlier this month described homosexuality as “damage in the mind” during an interview with a German television station.

Peter Tatchell, a British activist, on Oct. 25 protested the country’s LGBTQ+ and intersex rights record while standing outside the National Museum of Qatar in Doha, the country’s capital. A State Department official on Nov. 18 acknowledged to the Washington Blade that the U.S. raised LGBTQ+ and intersex rights with the Qatari government ahead of the World Cup.

The U.S. men’s soccer team while in Qatar will have a redesigned logo with the Pride flag in its badge. Secretary of State Antony Blinken will attend their match against Wales on Monday.

England played Iran on Monday. The Netherlands on Monday will play Senegal.

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Far right angry U.S. Soccer honors LGBTQ+ people for World Cup

The logo is being used to protest Qatar’s anti-LGBTQ+ laws. Same-sex relationships are criminalized in the country

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USA Soccer team media area Qatar (Screenshot/YouTube Sky News Global)

CHICAGO – The decision to support the global LGBTQ+ community by the U.S. Men’s soccer team with a redesigned logo incorporating the LGBTQ+ Pride flag to its badge which will be seen at the USA Soccer team’s hotel, media areas and parties throughout the Qatar World Cup, has angered far-right homophobic groups in the U.S.

The logo is being used to protest Qatar’s anti-LGBTQ+ laws. Same-sex relationships are criminalized in the country with up to seven years in jail, while queer Muslim men, under Sharia law, can be punished with death.

The World Cup begins on Sunday on November 20 and the US team is slotted to play against the team from Wales on Monday the 21st.

“Our rainbow badge has an important and consistent role in the identity of US Soccer,” A US Soccer spokesperson said. “As part of our approach for any match or event, we include rainbow branding to support and embrace the LGBTQ community, as well as to promote a spirit of inclusiveness and welcoming to all fans across the globe.”

Media Matters reported that Daily Wire Host and transphobic/homophobic host Matt Walsh in a rant on his daily show said:

“The corporate gay pride stuff is just sheep’s blood on the door signaling that they are the chosen people so the angel of cancellation passes them over. But as far as symbolism goes, I think it is appropriate that they should change the colors of the American flag with the colors of the LGBT flag.

“I mean, it’s horrendous, it’s traitorous, it’s treasonous — if I was in charge of the country, they wouldn’t be allowed back into the country — but it’s also appropriate.

“Because the LGBT nation, LGBTistan we may call it, is, after all, the country that corporate America as well as the United States government seeks to represent.

“Now some people predict that we will eventually in the future become two countries, there’s going to be some civil war. But the point is we’re already two countries. There’s one that salutes the Pride flag and despises the American flag, and one that salutes the American flag and has no use for the Pride flag.

“At this point, it’s only a matter of making the split official, I suppose. Something that we will probably never do, but we should.” 

During a press conference Gregg Berhalter, head coach of the US men’s soccer team, said: “I think that when we are on the world stage and [we’re in] Qatar, it’s important to bring awareness to these issues, and that’s what Be the Change is about.”

Berhalter was referring to the campaign launched in November 2020 following the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis, Minnesota police officer Derek Chauvin, to put a spotlight on human rights abuses and social injustice.

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No disputing winner: Jacob Caswell is first in nonbinary category

All three of the top nonbinary finishers are a part of Front Runners New York, a group for runners who are LGBTQ

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Jacob Caswell/Instagram

NEW YORK – For the first time in the history of the six major marathons around the world, organizers of the New York City Marathon awarded cash prizes to the top nonbinary runners. 

Jacob Caswell, 25, of New York City, finished first in their category on Sunday, earning $5,000, for running the 26.2 mile race in 2:45:12. 

“None of this would be possible without so many people putting in amazing work so that I and all future runners have a more inclusive space to run in,” Caswell posted on Instagram. “A major thank you to everyone!”

This was Caswell’s first time running the NYC Marathon, but they’ve been training by competing in a half-marathon in Brooklyn—winning the nonbinary category—and as well as the New York Road Runners 10K in Queens this past June. 

“Being able to not even win but just compete as yourself, it’s just been freeing,” Caswell told The New York Times.

In the NYC Marathon, they finished 172nd overall and 24 and a half minute ahead of this year’s second place nonbinary runner, Zackary Harris of New York City. Last year, Harris, 27, finished first in the nonbinary category, but at that time there were no cash prizes. Justin Solle, 28, also of New York, finished third of the 45 nonbinary runners. 

While most of that category’s runners hail from the Greater New York metropolitan area, there were also nonbinary runners from Colorado, Florida, Kentucky, Louisiana, Washington State and even from Germany. 

This race was only the second time a World Marathon Major race registered nonbinary competitors. Marathon organizers in Boston, Chicago, London and Berlin followed New York’s lead; Only the Tokyo Marathon has not, according to NBC News.

The Times reported the Philadelphia Distance Run became the first organization to offer equal prize money to nonbinary athletes in September.

Photo by Da Ping Luo for NYRR

All three of the top nonbinary finishers are a part of Front Runners New York, a group for runners who are LGBTQ. According to The Times, Front Runners New York is working with groups like New York City Runs to offer more opportunities for nonbinary, trans and trans nonbinary runners. 

“Nonbinary runners have been here this whole time,” Harris told the newspaper. “We’ve been forced to run in categories that don’t match our gender identities, and now we’re seeing a shift in sports to actually recognize us.”

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Black player makes history: He’s Out at Hampton University

HU’s student body is predominately Black and female with over 83% of students from out-of-state or from other countries

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Byron Perkins (Los Angeles Blade/Instagram)

HAMPTON, Va. – In an exclusive interview with Cyd Ziegler of OutSports magazine, a football athlete at Hampton University, a private, historically Black, research university spoke about his coming Out as the first openly gay athlete at the university.

In his interview, Byron Perkins, a defensive back, said; “Especially at an HU, young Black gay men need an outlet. They need a support system. There hasn’t been an out gay football athlete at an HU. I want to end the stigma of what people think. I want people to know they can be themselves.”  

HU’s student body is predominately Black and female with over 83% of students from out-of-state or from other countries. The football team, the Hampton Pirates, compete in the NCAA Division I Football Championship Subdivision.

Perkins, who is a junior, had transferred to HU from Purdue University and according to his stats has played two seasons with the HU Pirates. So far this season he has been credited with 16 tackles and two deflected passes. The Pirates current season standing overall is 4-2.

Speaking with OutSports Perkins outlined his views on coming Out and his growth as a person, a gay Black male in particular as he charts a new course in his life.

“I’ve been self-reflective and trying to prioritize what makes me happy and makes me feel alive,” Perkins said. “I thought it could be just football and school, but there was a component missing. And recently I’ve been able to figure out that I haven’t been fully happy because everyone didn’t know who I was. Authenticity is everything to me.”

Perkins also posted to Instagram revealing his sexual orientation, “I have come to understand that life is precious and I could be gone at any moment, therefore, I will no longer be living a lie. No one should have to live a life crippled by what society thinks.”

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