Daria Berenato, better known as Sonya Deville — WWE superstar — made headlines in 2015 when she became the first openly gay female wrestler in WWE history. Now, after performing in front of arenas filled with fans and in front of millions more watching at home, Berenato wants to take her advocacy for the LGBTQ+ community to the next level.
“I really just want to be a voice for the community in sports — specifically, in the WWE,” says Berenato, who is 27. “I want to let people know that their sexuality doesn’t define them and how they identify doesn’t define them. And I’m a perfect example of it.”
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Berenato has been a fighter all her life. The middle child of three sisters, she says that growing up roughhousing with them naturally led to an early interest in mixed martial arts. “I just wanted to do something that was going to contribute to my future more,” she says. “I was always looking ahead. School wasn’t really my thing.”
Inspired by early breakout women’s MMA stars such as Cris Cyborg and Gina Carano, Berenato began training and ended up with a record of 21. That’s when she got a call that would change her life.
In addition to her fight career, Berenato worked for Maria Menounos at the online broadcasting network AfterBuzz TV. Menounos had been contacted by WWE about appearing as a contestant on the reality series “Tough Enough,” which awards the winner with a WWE contract. Menounos thought the show would be a perfect fit for Berenato, who was invited to a try out in Florida. But she was forced to make a tough decision: Attending the tryout would mean missing her first amateur MMA title fight. Berenato ultimately went with her gut and got on a plane.
“I quickly started to realize that [WWE] was the perfect combination of the two things that I loved the most, which was performing and fighting,” she says.
Her time on “Tough Enough” also led to a mortifying experience — coming out on national TV. Berenato says her family knew that she was gay, but she had not admitted it publicly at the time. When asked on the show if she was in a relationship, she had to make a snap decision, and ultimately said that she did have a girlfriend.
“I honestly thought that was going to hurt my chances of getting hired. That’s just how naive I was,” she says. “I didn’t accept myself, so I didn’t think anyone else was going to accept me.”
Instead, Berenato found herself on the road to stardom. She signed a contract in 2015 to join WWE’s NXT, a developmental territory to train up-and-coming talent, before moving to the main roster in 2017. She counts WWE Hall of Famers like Lita and Trish Stratus among the influences for her in-ring work.
But her time in the spotlight has not all been positive. In August 2020, a man broke into her home with the intent to kidnap her. It turns out he had been sending her messages for months on social media and was able to find her address, driving from South Carolina to Florida to confront her face-to-face. Luckily, Berenato escaped unharmed and the man was arrested.
When asked about the experience she says, “So the trial hasn’t even begun yet. We’ll probably be dealing with that for the next several months. But I will definitely speak on it once it’s all legally wrapped up. There are things that I want to say that I think could help performers, and just people in general, in the future.”
Still, Berenato is thankful for the reach that she has with her platform and social media presence, saying that the overwhelming majority of the messages she receives online are positive.
“I would say that about 70% of my fan base is part of the community somehow, some way. I get messages constantly on Instagram and Twitter and emails, just all the people always asking me like, ‘Hey, do you have any advice on how I should come out?’ Or ‘Thank you. You helped me feel OK with myself and my sexuality.’ That’s literally the reason I use my voice.”