Kenny Omega and Kota Ibushi’s journey of love was neither the beginning nor the end of LGBTQ pro wrestling’s rise.
It’s been 18 months since pro wrestlers Kenny Omega and Kota Ibushi, collectively known as the Golden Lovers, reunited with a tearful embrace in the middle of a New Japan Pro Wrestling ring. The moment was 10 years in the making, bringing two men with a unique love and history together in one of the industry’s most positive portrayals of coded same-sex relationships.
The time since the aptly titled New Beginning event has been a whirlwind for both men.
Ibushi signed what he describes as a “lifetime contract” with NJPW before winning the company’s most prestigious tournament, the G1 Climax on Monday. Omega left NJPW behind to form All Elite Wrestling after finally capturing the company’s top championship, the IWGP heavyweight title.
But the industry as a whole has seen a change in terms of LGBTQ visibility in that span. The Golden Lovers still stand as an important accomplishment for LGBTQ representation in the traditionally hyper-masculine world of pro wrestling despite neither publicly identifying as LGBTQ. But before that streamer-covered hug in Sapporo, there were out wrestlers working various circuits, and more have seen their profiles grow in the time since.
Out wrestlers like Jake Atlas, Effy, Anthony Bowens, Parrow and Jamie Senegal, among countless others, have lit up audiences across North America in that timeframe. And that effect hasn’t been contained to the continent. New Zealand’s Candy Lee and Japan’s ASUKA are recognized as trans trailblazers within the industry.
Cassandro and Pimpinela Escarlata continue to represent Mexico’s long history of exoticos 30 years into their careers. Jack Sexsmith carries the flag for pansexuality in the U.K. even after his forced early retirement. Charlie Morgan does the same for the lesbian community in Britain under similar circumstances.
Companies like New York’s A Matter Of Pride have provided a home for a number of LGBTQ wrestlers while receiving tacit endorsements from former WWE champions like Melina.
The industry’s heavy hitters have also opened their doors to LGBTQ talent. Sonya Deville still rocks the rainbow from time to time during WWE events as the company’s first out lesbian competitor. Fred Rosser continues to use the clout of his time in WWE as Darren Young to promote positivity through his Block The Hate campaign. Impact’s Kiera Hogan and WOW’s Diamante became inspirations by sharing their love openly.
And then there’s AEW. Omega and his Elite counterparts haven’t let the message behind the Golden Lovers fade as they built the company’s roster and mission. “AEW is for everyone” is more than just a slogan of positivity. The signing of Nyla Rose and Sonny Kiss prove that.
This can’t be the end though. The importance of Omega and Ibushi’s relationship persists, but the rise in profile for the LGBTQ pro wrestling community cannot fade.
Effy’s powerful words during RISE’s LGBTQ-focused event Pride & Joy in June were a call to promoters that LGBTQ talent deserved a platform after Pride month ends. But those words ring true for the strengthening platform of LGBTQ pro wrestling as a whole.
“Everybody’s booked. All this queer talent. It only happens when there’s a gay event. It only happens when it’s convenient. It only happens when the gays are allowed to be celebrated … When Pride month ends, all the gay talent is going to stop getting booked again and they’re all so happy to have a booking right now that they won’t say anything about it … Tomorrow, when July starts and everyone changes their Twitter profiles back from the gay flag, I’ll be watching. If you’re not booking queer talent correctly, if you’re not putting it through my filter so I can tell you if it works or if it doesn’t, then it is cancelled.”
The Golden Lovers highlighted it, but LGBTQ pro wrestling is making sure that it is here to stay.