Raising a child is difficult enough at its core. Dwyane Wade and Gabrielle Union are exhibiting their continued love and support for their children and are proud parents of an LGBTQ+ child. Wade made the announcement on Ellen earlier this year that his then 12-year-old daughter, Zaya, was transgender.
Zaya, assigned male at birth, first came out as transgender to her parents. Transgender is an umbrella term for people whose gender identity or expression differs from the sex they were assigned at birth. Wade explained that his daughter had done her own research on gender identity before she approached her family. The NBA star explained on Good Morning America that Zaya told them she identified as a “young lady” and has known her gender identity since she was three-years-old.
Our sex refers to what we were assigned at birth, either “male” or “female” based on anatomy and hormones. Gender, on the other hand, refers to roles, behavior, and attributes given by society deemed appropriate for men and women. A person’s gender identity may not always align with the sex they were assigned at birth, leading them to identify as a different gender. A person’s gender identity may also be externally manifested through gender expression as a way to not conform to society’s definition of masculine versus femine characteristics and behavior.
“We are proud parents of a child in the LGBTQ+ community,” the NBA star told Ellen DeGeneres. “And we’re proud allies as well. So, when our child comes home with a question, when our child comes home with an issue, when our child comes home with anything, it’s our job as parents to listen to that and give them the best information that we can, the best feedback that we can. That doesn’t change because sexuality is now involved.”
Wade and Union didn’t just stop at referring to Zaya by the pronouns she and her. The duo worked together with their daughter to educate themselves on sexuality and gender, something Wade admitted to being ignorant about before his daughter’s coming out. Union reached out to the cast of Pose, a drama about New York City’s ballroom scene starring a majority transgendered cast. They gave Zaya the opportunity to be the leader, allowing her to use her voice with their help to educate society so that eventually, she will be able to speak out in support of LGBTQ+ issues on her own as she gets older.
“We just tried to figure out as much information as we can to make sure that we give our child the best opportunity to be her best self,” Wade said.
The father of four was determined to make sure that he was using the correct pronouns for Zaya, ensuring that he was saying the right things to his daughter. He honed in on pronouns and language, reaching out for the correct information he and Union needed to begin their learning process to support Zaya throughout her transition and defining her own gender identity.
Since coming out to her parents, Zaya has made her red-carpet debut at The Truth Awards in Los Angeles, an event that celebrates members and allies of the Black LGBTQ+ community and celebrated becoming a teenager with an epic medieval themed birthday party planned by her parents, complete with costumes and decor fit for royalty. She’s been credited as the photographer on her step-mom’s Self magazine cover shoot and has just been enjoying being a teen.
Wade, Union, and their entire family are in a special position with their lives open to the public eye. The parenting duo want to help other parents and family members to LGBTQ+ children, advising them to do the research and have conversations with their kids in order to learn and better support them. They admit to not having all of the answers yet and don’t pretend to, but are willing to put in the time and effort in order to continue to learn with and from Zaya.
Wade’s support for Zaya is, unfortunately, rare for black transgender teens. According to the Human Rights Campaign’s 2019 Black and African American LGBTQ Youth Report, 77 percent of black youth have heard negative comments about LGBTQ+ people from their family members and 47 percent have been mocked by members of their family for being LGBTQ+. Only 19 percent said that they are able to be themselves at home and 67 percent said that their families make them feel bad about their transgender identity. Because of the negative attention their gender identity is given at home, 80 percent of black transgender people say that they feel depressed because they are not accepted by their families.
Union and Wade know that they still have a long journey ahead for themselves and the rest of their friends and family. In a piece penned to Time, the parents wrote about the beginning of their educational and supportive journey alongside Zaya.
The biggest lesson they’ve learned so far? Listening to their children.
“Do you actually know your child, or are you just committed to forcing your child to conform to these impossible standards?” they continued. “You can’t one-size-fits-all your parenting. A lot of people are now wondering who they could have been, had their parents supported who they are. Identity isn’t a desire or a wish: it’s more a matter of our understanding and making the necessary adjustments to ensure someone is celebrated for being their authentic and true selves.”
Photo credit: Gabrielle Union IG