"Fear the Gay Agenda," pro wrestler Effy warned the GCW crowd.

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When it was announced that Game Changer Wrestling (GCW) would be coming to Wyoming, the response from wrestling fans was one of excitement. Professional wrestling doesn't occur in Wyoming very often. Once in a while, back in the '90s, the big organizations like WWF (now WWE) and WCW would put on shows at the former Casper Events Center. But those occasions were few and far between.

Nowadays, those days are even fewer. And independent wrestling organizations, like GCW, never come to this side of the country.

That is, until GCW descended on Laramie's Albany County Fairgrounds on a hot Saturday in June and literally tore the house down. Fans knew going in that they were in store for something special. There would be flaming tables. There would be barbed wire. And oh, there would be blood.

Wrestling legends like Ricky Morton, 2 Cold Scorpio and Nick Gage were joined by up-and-coming talent like Warhorse, Chris Dickinson, and Joey Janella.

There was one wrestler, however, who completely stole the show. This performer was clad in fishnet tights, trunks that said 'Daddy' on the back of them, and a half-cutoff t-shirt that said, quite simply, 'Wrestling is Gay.'

This is Effy, in a nutshell, and he completely captivated an audience that, twenty years ago, may have had a vastly different response to the show he was putting on.

In 1998, a University of Wyoming student named Matthew Shepard was brutally beaten and left to die, tied to a fencepost on the outskirts of the city. The Guardian calls it "one of the worst anti-gay hate crimes in American history." Opinions vary on the actual reasons for his slaying, but the general consensus is that Shepard was murdered because he was gay.

The two assailants, Aaron McKinney and Russel Henderson were sentenced to prison and Matthew's parents, Dennis and Judy Shepard, created the Matthew Shepard Foundation, a non-profit organization designed to "amplify the story of Matthew Shepard to inspire individuals, organizations and communities to embrace the dignity and equality of all people."

In 2009, President Obama signed the Matthew Shepard Act, a law which defined certain attacks as Hate Crimes if they were motivated by victim identity, such as being gay.

The death of Matthew Shepard pointed a spotlight directly at Wyoming and, for a long time, it was what the state was most known for. When outsiders thought about Wyoming, or spoke about it, many people identified it as "the place where Matthew Shepard was murdered."

"Once people find out I'm from Laramie, Wyoming, they still zero in on this hate crime," former Laramie Mayor Trudy McCraken told the Associated Press. 

It's been 23 years now since the death of Matthew Shepard, and a lot has changed in terms of how the gay community is perceived in Wyoming. But a lot still hasn't.

Scroll any social media comment section and you'll see a mix of pro-gay, anti-gay, anti-trans, pro-choice, etc. rhetoric. It's to be expected because people are human and opinions differ. But what happens when a very 'out' professional wrestler, whose catchphrase is 'Fear the Gay Agenda' comes to Laramie and puts on a wrestling match?

Well, in short, the crowd loved it. The crowd loved him. They called him Daddy and Daddy gave them everything he had, taking on a wrestler by the name of Warhorse. The two wrestlers got, arguably, the biggest reactions of the night, which surprised Effy. He knew about the history of Wyoming, so he didn't know how the crowd would react to him.

"Historically, for gay people in Wyoming...I was a little nervous to come in," Effy said. "Especially during Pride month; I wouldn't say there's pressure but, you know, I stand pretty forward, pretty aggressively, and pretty loud. But once I got into town, and into this raindrop oasis, I saw pride flags hanging up in every bar. It's a very diverse bar scene."

It's not just the bar scene that is diverse, either. Towns like Laramie, Cheyenne, and Casper all held various Pride events throughout the month of June, showing that Wyoming is, indeed, changing from within.

"It's really awesome," Effy said. "Not only that we're bringing queer wrestlers into Laramie, not exclusively but as part of the show in a normal way, and there's that want and that love, and there's people behind it. Like, I'm looking at a crazy line of people and a lot of them are here to see me."

It was true. The chants of 'Daddy' proved that. It wasn’t always like that though. When Effy first came out, he didn’t have the confidence that he has now. Being gay in general, let alone being gay in such a typically-male-dominated world such as professional wrestling, is hard. But for Effy, coming out was just another decision he made, in a long string of them, as an effort to stay true to himself, while also becoming the best version of himself.

“When I started wrestling, I was recently sober,” he revealed. “So not only am I entering wrestling and getting sober; I’m also being honest with myself about my sexuality for the first time. And as I grew in my career, I continued sort of poking these bubbles and entering into spaces that I didn’t think would celebrate me having this loudness and having this forwardness.”

But GCW is a company that not only accepts loudness and forwardness - it encourages it. Game Changer Wrestling is one of the most prominent independent promotions in the world right now. Nick Gage, who also wrestled on the show in Wyoming, is appearing on national television to wrestle the legendary Chris Jericho, for All Elite Wrestling on the TNT Network. GCW is forcing people to take notice. So is Effy.

"GCW is a very adaptable company," Effy stated. "I think when you talk to people who are behind the scenes and booking - if you have ideas and you can make them work, they're accepted as ideas. Whereas a lot of the [major] companies right now, it's older white guys who have a lot of experience but aren't willing to admit where it has shifted, or where it has changed, or new things that will work. So, when we have these wrestlers coming in who have a more unique perspective or a different background, and they can tell stories from their perspective; when you're adaptable as a company and can say, 'Hey, if it's over and it's good, you should run with it...' When that happens, you run into stuff that you wouldn't ever think would be successful, and you find the gold there."

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And, really, that's what Effy's entire character is about. It could even be one of the biggest messages he's trying to convey - taking something about yourself that others may look down on, or judge, or laugh at, or persecute you for, and finding the gold within it. For some people, that may be their sexuality. For others, it may be addiction issues that they wake up every day battling. It could be past traumas, or insecurities, or issues of self worth. There are so many things, so many reflections of the human condition that cause us to look away. Effy is an example of how important it is to stare straight at it, unblinking, and embrace who we are, hecklers be damned.

In pro wrestling, the old adage is that for a wrestling character to work, you have to take your own personality and 'Turn it up to 11.'

"But they don't mean turn every bit of yourself up to 11," Effy remarked. "And I think with social media, we have this balance of providing as much of ourselves as we feel comfortable with, but also keeping certain things to ourselves, to create a mystique. My mystique is built in my honesty. Am I telling you about every argument I have at home or am I telling you every little problem I go through? No. But I'm giving you an authentic version of myself, and there's an honesty there. I don't play by anybody's rules. I don't ask permission. And that's beautiful. Nobody in wrestling gets over playing by the rules."

Effy certainly doesn't play by the rules; of wrestling or of life. That's why his biggest catchphrase is 'Fear the Gay Agenda.' That's not exactly PC, and naysayers will no doubt use it to try and combat the equality that the LGBTQ community is always striving to achieve. But, for Effy, just being "equals" isn't enough anymore. Simply being 'tolerated' by the rest of the world isn't enough, either.

"Gay people are always asking for tolerance and we're always asking for respect and we're always asking for equality," he said. "Beyond that, we're also setting a point where we're drawing a line in the sand. I think back to New York and San Francisco; there was a movement called the Pink Panthers back in the day. What the Pink Panthers would do is sort of protect the gays coming home from the club from people who are looking to attack them.

"I want to bring that mentality back. I'm not telling you that you have to be scared of all gay people, but the consequences now are not just 'You can't do that.' The consequences are now on-site. Our LGBTQ group is at the place now where we go, 'No, there's no teaching anymore. We're not the responsible teachers we have to be. You can do a little research. Now, the consequences are that we're going to let the world know if you f--- this up on purpose.'"

The frustration is evident when Effy talks about intolerance. Because for as far as the country has come in terms of equality and acceptance and tolerance, most would argue that it's still not nearly where it needs to be. Even in Wyoming, with stories of bars selling anti-gay t-shirts, or transgender entertainers being threatened, there is a long way to go.

But, for each of those kinds of stories, there are also stories of LGBTQ-themed community dinners. There are stories of drag church services. There is Pride in the Park. Wyoming, much like the rest of the country, is evolving. It's certainly not the same place that Matthew Shepard lived in, and died in, back in 1998. And though Effy had some stern words for intolerance, the message for Wyoming that he really wanted to convey was a positive one.

"For a gay pro wrestler to step into Laramie, where not a lot of wrestling happens, and already have people behind me?" he said. "That's very strange and new and wild, but we're making that progress. Now, it's like 'Man, I could come back here and have a little family vacay. There's not that nervousness anymore.'"

To see video of Effy in action during GCW's Outlaw Mudshow in Wyoming, check out the clip below.

Photos from the event can be seen here:

Pro Wrestling Comes to Wyoming

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