How Dwyane Wade and Gabrielle Union Devoted Themselves to Becoming His Daughter's Fiercest Allies

Not the type to approach life at anything other than a 15 out of 10, Dwyane Wade and wife Gabrielle Union have dove headfirst into their new role as daughter Zaya's most devoted allies.

By Sarah Grossbart Feb 19, 2020 11:00 AMTags

Dwyane Wade can recall each salient detail. 

His now-12-year-old daughter Zaya (with ex-wife Siohvaughn Funches) had spent nearly the whole of her life working through questions about her personal identity. She felt certain she was a member of the LGBTQ+ community, though she wasn't entirely sure what that meant, not necessarily feeling as if she was meant to live as a gay man. 

So when she landed on her answers, sitting the family down for an intense discussion, they were ready to listen. "Zion, born as a boy, came home and said, 'Hey, so I want to talk to you guys,'" Wade shared during an appearance on The Ellen DeGeneres Show last week. "'I think going forward I am ready to live my truth. I want to be referenced as 'she' and 'her.' I would love for you guys to call me Zaya.'"

Having put in a considerable amount of research, he elaborated yesterday on Good Morning America, "She went down a list and said, 'This is how I identify myself. This is my gender identity. I identity myself as a young lady. I identify as straight trans because I like boys.'"

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Taking in the information, the impossibly cool couple reacted just as well as you'd imagine.

"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," the 38-year-old, also dad to Zaire, 18, Xavier, 6, 15-month-old Kaavia and nephew Dahveon Morris, 18, noted to DeGeneres. "And that doesn't change because sexuality is now involved in it."

So after assuring Zaya that of course her family had her back, would always suit up alongside her, the athlete and his wife of six years embraced the chance to learn about everything she was experiencing. "It was a process for us to sit down with our daughter and find out who she is and what she likes and not put something on her because, as parents, we put our hopes and we put our fears on our kids," he told Robin Roberts on GMA. "With Zaya, we decided to listen to her and she's leading us on this journey."

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Not the type to approach life at anything other than a 15 out of 10, the three-time NBA champion and the multi-hyphenate, whose resume includes a few dozen movies, a lengthy list of TV work, a clothing line and a New York Times bestseller, dove headfirst into their new roles as proud allies. 

"Now it's our job to one, go out and get information, to reach out to every relationship that we have," the athlete explained, sharing that the 47-year-old actress had already begun tapping into her network. "My wife reached out to everybody on the cast of Pose. We're 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 started with Miami's April Pride parade, Union representing them both as Wade was entangled with previous work commitments. "Wish I was there to see you smile kid!" he wrote on Instagram, noting the tween had her own "cheering section" for the event. 

That group included Union and baby daughter Kaavia along with older brother Zaire, decked out in a pink top and rainbow headband for the occasion. But it was Zaya leading the charge, Pride ribbon pin at the ready.

"If you want to talk about strength and courage, my 12-year-old has way more than I have," Wade marveled to fellow NBA retirees Matt Barnes and Stephen Jackson on their All the Smoke podcast last year. "You can learn something from your kids. In my household, man, that's all we talk about. We talk about making sure our kids are seen by each of us, me and my wife, We talk about making sure our kids understand the power in their voice."


That October, Wade was ready to use his own, posting a photo of Union, then 11-month-old Kaavia and Zaya captioned, "My girls" on his Instagram Stories. And should anyone dare share their negative, close-minded opinions (because of course they did and continue to do so), the couple had snappy remarks at the ready. 

"Looks like love to me," Union responded to one Twitter user who asked their followers, "What y'all think of this?" And on the off chance the troll didn't get the message that hate isn't accepted in the Wade household, she drove the point home. 

"I truly hope that everyone gets the love, support and hugs they deserve," she continued noting that Kaav, if not the family's most popular member, certainly the one with the best Instagram feed and judgmental stare, "ain't with the dumb s--t. Peace & Blessings good people."

When other followers came for Zaya's stylish cropped sweatshirt and manicured nails in a family Thanksgiving photo, it was Wade's turn to play offense

"I've seen some post-thanksgiving hate on social about my family photo," the retired shooting guard Tweeted. "Stupidity is apart of this world we live in—so i get it. But here's the thing—I've been chosen to lead my family not y'all. So we will continue to be us and support each other with pride, love & a smile!"


Responding to a fan who praised their "powerful & moving" stance, noting that it's not often a child in their community is "given autonomy over your body, beliefs, image, & statements," he doubled down: "As a parent my only goal is that my kids feel that i see them, love them and support them."

Which means occasionally getting into it with the type of cowards who lurk on the Internet, offering their unwanted takes on how the Wade clan is living their lives. "When I respond to things socially, I'm not responding to it because you hurt my feelings," he explained on All the Smoke. "I'm not responding because I even care enough about what you're saying...I'm responding because I understand my platform. I'm responding because I'm speaking for a lot of people who don't have the same voice that I have as a father.

For now, he noted to his fellow former NBA pros, "I'm even speaking for my 12-year-old because I haven't allowed [her] to sit in-front of a microphone yet. I'm speaking for so many others in the LGBTQ+ community."

And he's speaking as someone who may not have been quite this enlightened during his days scooping up basketball trophies. 

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"I knew early on that I had to check myself," he told Roberts when asked how early he was aware of his daughter's gender identity. "I knew early on that I had to ask myself questions. I've been a person in the locker room that has been a part of the conversation that has said the wrong phrases and the wrong words. As I got older and as I watched my daughter grow, I had to go look at myself in the mirror and say, 'Who are you? What are you going to do if your child comes home and says, Dad, I'm not a boy? That I'm a gay boy or that I'm a trans girl. What are you going to do?'"

The answer it turned out, involved him going all in. "My daughter was my first interaction when it comes with having to deal with this conversation," Wade admitted. "Hopefully I'm dealing with it the right way. Some people think I'm not but, inside our home, we see the smile on our daughter's face. We see the confidence that she's able to walk around and be herself and that's when you know you're doing it right."

Following Wade's Feb. 11 announcement on The Ellen DeGeneres Show, the rest of the family chimed in with their support. "Man, I remember bugging my mom as a kid telling her I wanted a brother so bad," Zaire captioned a throwback of the two as kids. "I was the only child looking for company and someone to look after and take care of. I have been blessed to have my best friend, Zaya with me for 12 years."

"We did everything together...we fought, we played, we laughed and we cried," he continued. "But the one thing we never did was leave each other behind... I've told you that I would lay my life down to make sure you are ten toes down and happy on this earth. I don't care what they think Z, you are my best friend and I love you kid, and if it means anything, just know there's no love lost on this side."

Johnny Nunez/Getty Images for Stance

And while Zaya undoubtedly appreciates her own personal cheer squad mat talking her through life, the remarkably self-assured middle schooler seems to have a firm grasp on the situation. 

"Meet Zaya," Union introduced a clip of the preteen riffing on the importance of living your truth. "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." 

Particularly when they're wise far beyond their 12 years, Zaya speaking to dad Wade about what she'd tell those afraid of being judged. "I would say don't even think about that. Just be true to yourself because what's the point of being on this Earth if you're going to try and be someone you're not?" she reasoned. "It's like you're not even living as yourself, which is the dumbest concept to me. Be true and don't really care what the stereotypical way of being you is."

And when faced with ignorant hate, "I think you push through and you be the best you and especially more recently, it's become more accepting," she continued. "Even through hard times, you gotta just push through. It's worth it. I think it's very worth it when you reach that point of yourself. You can look in the mirror and say hi to yourself."

It was Zaya's confident take on the situation that ultimately made the family comfortable positioning themselves as unofficially spokespeople. 

"I struggled on how much I wanted to talk about it in the doc," Wade told Roberts of this weekend's release of ESPN's D.Wade: Life Unexpected. "I actually didn't talk about it a lot, but I knew if I put it in the doc at all, it would be a big conversation...We struggled with what people would say about a 12-year-old making a decision about her life. But we also know our child." 

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Strong, poised and unabashedly certain of how she wants to live her life, she's the real game changer. 

Certainly he and Union are devoted students, with the actress publicly thanking "everyone whose dms I slid into, friends, & family who provided information, resources, love & encouragement," and instructing those in the know to "check us as needed," but it's Zaya at the forefront. 

"I'm not going to sit here and act like we have all the answers," Wade said on GMA. "I'm not going to sit here act like before our child came home and sat us down that we was not ignorant parents when it comes to the world. When I say we're learning from our 12-year-old, we are literally learning from our child."


But having that conversation publicly can not only help others going through the same thing, it serves as a constant reminder to Zaya that she has the most committed of teammates at her side. "The biggest thing is have an open mind," said Wade. "Go out and research. Ask your child, ask other people questions about this because this conversation is real. Our 12-year-old deals with this. This is her life every day. This is no game to us. We're about protecting her heart. We're about protecting her joy."

Ultimately, he continued, he knows that it's not possible to reach everyone, that some will refuse to accept views other than their own. "We get a lot of hate from people," he allowed. "But along the way, we, inside, together, as the Wade family, we have to be the ones to have each other's back. For us, it was important that Zaya understood that her family has her back."