When Gabrielle Union and Dwyane Wade announced their daughter Zaya Wade has come out as trans, it shouldn’t have been surprising to anyone who had been paying attention. It wasn’t a question of what or why, but more of when.
From walking a runway to Miami Gay Pride, posting pictures with the caption saying “my girls,” proudly defending Zaya rocking fierce nails and giving multiple interviews on the importance of loving their beautiful child, for nearly a year the beloved couple had been laying down the necessary groundwork for this announcement by slowly and lovingly reintroducing Zaya into the public eye.
Given how unforgiving our transphobic and racist world is, looking back at it, their approach feels like a careful, cautious and strategy, a buffer of sorts that clearly children like Zaya desperately deserve and need. Especially Black children, who just by having the audacity to be born, already enter this Earth with a set of oppressive obstacles and societal gender-based expectations standing in their way of survival, success and most importantly, happiness. But for parents like Gabrielle and Dwayne, who are incredibly visible, I can’t imagine the amount of fear they faced, not for themselves, but for the safety of their trans daughter, who at the age of 12 is bold and brave to her life out loud.
Like most of us, I have no idea what served as the exact catalyst for this announcement, but whatever it was, to see it finally happen was beautiful to witness.
“Meet Zaya. She’s compassionate, loving, whip-smart and we are so proud of her. It’s Ok to listen to, love & respect your children exactly as they are. Love and light good people,” the actress and proud mama wrote on Twitter on Tuesday (Feb. 11).
Shortly after Gabby’s tweet, Dwayne was a guest on The Ellen Degeneres Show, speaking about the day that Zaya came out as trans.
“So once Zaya, our 12-year-old, came home — first Zion, I don’t know if everyone knows, originally named Zion, born as a boy — came home and said, ‘Hey, so I want to talk to you guys. I think going forward I’m ready to live my truth,’” the retired NBA star told TV host Ellen DeGeneres.
“‘And I want to be referenced as she and her. I would love for you guys to call me Zaya,'” adding, “I looked at her and said, ‘You are our leader. You are our leader and it’s our opportunity to allow you to be a voice.
“Right now it’s through us because she’s 12 years old but eventually it would be through her.”
Clearly, this is an act to be applauded, and most people with common sense and a desire to be on the right of history think so too. Gabrielle and Dwayne are showing us what loving, accepting and supportive parents look like, and while folks from all races are showing their support to the family, this particular moment means something especially special to us…and we need more of it, so do our Black LGBTQ kids.
Now, I don’t say that to play into that tired trope that Black people are more homophobic than white folks because we all know that isn’t true. There are plenty of African-American parents that accept and love their LGBTQ children, we just don’t tell their stories enough. But when we do turn our backs on our children, the stakes are higher.
A 2016 report released by the Center for American Progress found that Black LGBTQ folks experience higher rates of homelessness during youth than their peers; have higher rates of unemployment or underemployment; and face overall lower rates of pay and higher rates of poverty. Another report conducted by the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network found that nearly half of Black/African-American LGBTQ students felt unsafe due to their sexual orientation; over a third felt unsafe because of their gender expression and nearly 40 percent of Black/ African-American students were more likely to experience in-school discipline.
But if we want to be honest about how to protect our kids, we also have to address the cultural way that too many African-American folks address their parenting. At times it feels more like a dictatorship than anything else, a lot of “You do and be who I say,” instead of creating spaces for children to be safe and themselves in their own homes. Hell, whether we want to admit it or not, a lot of us have been taught that Black parenting is about ownership and literally whipping folks into shape, especially children who identify outside of being straight and cisgender.
How many times have we heard folks joke or be even serious about “beating their kid’s ass” for being gay? Or seen family members slap an effeminate boy’s wrist or comment about how they walk to shame them for being who they are? How many times did folks flock to social media to question Dwyane as a Black man and as a father for “allowing” his child to “be this way” or that Zaya was “too young” to know who they were?
But thankfully for Zaya (and for us), Dwayne and Gabrielle have rejected that old school abusive parenting style and replaced it with love, listening and learning.
“We take our roles and responsibility as parents very seriously,” he told Degeneres. “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, to give them the best information that we can, the best feedback that we can. And that doesn’t change because sexuality is now involved in it.”
“It’s our job to one, go out and get information, to reach out to every relationship that we have. … We just trying 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.”
That, right there is the real job of a parent regardless of their gender identity or sexual orientation: To set their child up to live their best life with no conditions attached. We just pray that more Black parents can follow in Gabrielle and Dwyane’s footsteps.
***Editor’s Note: Due to Zaya’s recent coming out as transgender, all past stories that were written about her have been updated to reflect her correct gender identity and pronouns.