We’re living through a moment of surging vitriol and institutionally sanctioned ignorance directed at the LGBTQ+ community—and, in particular, queer and trans children, whose very existence is imperiled by legislation like Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” law and Texas’s ongoing attempt to separate trans youth from their supportive families. Given that context, the speech that Gabrielle Union and Dwyane Wade gave upon receiving the president’s award at the 2023 NAACP Image Awards on Saturday was all the more vital: Their speech honored their trans daughter, Zaya, and focused on the need for support and protection for the Black transgender community.
Union referred to the NAACP as “an organization that had led us through over a century of relentless challenge, pain, triumph, and change,” adding that it “now stands with us again at the foot of a very new era of activism, a new era that demands our collective answer to one simple question: Will we fight for some, or will we fight for all of our people?…Black trans people are being targeted, terrorized, and hunted in this country every day, everywhere, and there’s rarely a whisper about it. We honestly don’t approach this work as activists or leaders as much as we do this as parents—parents who love our children and will do whatever the hell we can to keep them seen and secure and safe.”
For his part, Wade brought up the difficulty that Zaya had faced in living openly as a transgender teen, saying: “Zaya, as your father, all I’ve wanted to do was get it right. I’ve sat back and watched how gracefully you’ve taken on the public scrutiny. And even though it’s not easy, I watched you walk out of that house every morning as yourself. I admire how you’ve handled the ignorance in our world.” The phenomenon of celebrity parents bringing up their kids at award shows is nothing new—just think of the countless “Kids, if you’re up late watching this, go to bed” punch lines you’ve heard famous presenters deploy when handing out awards—but given the increased scrutiny placed on Wade and Union’s parenting of a trans child, it’s particularly admirable to watch them call attention to the sobering fact that Black transgender and gender-nonconforming people face some of the highest rates of discrimination within the already-targeted LGBTQ+ community.
Right-wing politicians and activists’ reactions to the specific issues faced by queer and trans children are often to simply pretend they don’t exist, which makes Union and Wade’s public and highly visible allyship all the more valuable. Many children don’t have access to the kind of care and support that Union and Wade have pledged to Zaya and to the trans community more broadly. But hopefully the couple’s unabashed advocacy can inspire fans and viewers to stand up for the marginalized youth in their own lives.