The WWE has recently made incredibly progressive strides in their handling of the women's division, although there is still plenty of room for improvement. Now, Stephanie McMahon (both a character in the WWE and the company's actual Chief Brand Officer) is asserting her commitment to the LGBT community, saying that there are eventual plans to bring LGBT characters and storylines into the wrestling league.
At a Beyond Sport United event in New York this week, McMahon talked about the importance of inclusivity. "Throughout my life I have grown up knowing gay [WWE] superstars and executives," McMahon told NBC. "It's always been accepted, but now it's about getting that message out there."
"When it makes sense … absolutely we will integrate LGBT storylines into our programming," she continued. Early versions of an NBC article intimated that these changes would be happening sooner rather than later, but the story was eventually revised. "The WWE says it does not have imminent plans to include LGBT storylines but sees an opportunity to do so in the near future," reads the correction.
The WWE has also partnered with GLAAD to help the company stay up to speed on LGBT issues and politics. "We've had GLAAD come in and speak to our entire writing team and give a whole tutorial on sensitivities, the right words, the wrong words, why those words matter," McMahon said. "In terms of any issues that require a degree of sensitivity in terms of how they're being handled, we are always going to incorporate our partners, like GLAAD, to help us tell those stories the right way, because we do want to be sensitive to our audience, we want to be sensitive to the community and we want to make sure that we're telling the right messages in the right way."
Although the WWE has made significant progressive improvements in recent memory, the company has a somewhat shameful history when it comes to writing sexual minorities (and racial politics, but that's another article entirely). Take, for example, this clip from the Attitude Era:
Wrestling enthusiasts on the internet have doubts about the WWE's ability to appropriately handle LGBT storylines considering the inherently violent nature of sports entertainment.
Currently, the WWE has one openly gay superstar: Darren Young. Young's coming out in 2013 was universally celebrated by wrestling performers and fans alike.
In the past few months, Young's character has been developed significantly. He has recently teamed up with beloved wrestling legend Bob Backlund in a goofy but endearing plot that has Young feuding with his former tag partner, Titus O'Neil. Fans have enthusiastically gotten behind Young in these new segments:
Young's sexuality has never been overtly discussed during a WWE show, with Stephanie McMahon claiming that the Darren Young "character" is not gay: "Darren Young was the first WWE superstar to really come out as being homosexual," she said. "[B]ut his character in the show is not. At least, we haven’t done anything with it either way — just yet.”
Young himself doesn't seem to have a problem with this dichotomy: "Even though my character isn’t gay, I’m still able to express myself in other ways like when I put my arms up into an equal sign. That’s my signature pose and it symbolizes what Darren Young is all about. I’m here, and I do what I do to show everyone that we are all equal. Gay, straight, male, female, whatever your race, if you work hard and stay focused, you can make it to the big leagues!"
In official WWE behind the scenes material, Young has openly discussed his current relationship. Darren has also controversially criticized the WWE for performing in countries that criminalize homosexuality like Abu Dhabi. Young was forced by the company to remove his criticisms.
Stephanie McMahon's statements around philanthropy have many wrestling fans suspicious about her intentions pertaining to LGBT politics. Perhaps the smartest thing the WWE could do for an LGBT storyline would be to allow Young to openly discuss his current romance or publicly display affection with his boyfriend within the context of an episode rather than introducing new gay characters or story arcs, which certainly have the potential to backfire if mishandled.
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