The world shifted when NBA legend Dwyane Wade revealed that his 12-year-old identifies as transgender. Wade—appearing with his wife, actress Gabrielle Union, on The Ellen Degeneres Show in February—then debuted his child’s new name, Zaya. In that moment, using their celeb stature to model a deeper and more expansive version of love, Wade and Union began chipping away at the notion thatBlack families don’t cherish and honor our LGBTQ+ loved ones.
“We are proud parents of a child in the LGBTQ+ community, and we’re proud allies as well,” Wade said to Degeneres—who’s known for her own legendary public coming out, which changed the course of representation for the community more than two decades ago. Added Wade: “We take our roles and our responsibility as parents very seriously,”
Rarely have we seen such an influential Black couple publicly support their transgender child in this way. Black LGBTQ+ chil- dren of celebrities had come out before: Magic Johnson’s gender-nonconforming child, EJ; singer Sade Adu’s trans son, Izaak; and Willow Smith, who discussed loving “men and wom- en equally” on the Red Table Talk web series on Facebook Watch last summer.
I’m grateful to have an origin family that’s grown along with me, and while that’s worth celebrating, so are the many ways that folks make family when that kind of transformation isn’t possible.”—RAQUEL WILLIS
But Wade and Union’s embrace of Zaya felt different, because it was different. For one thing, she was many years younger than the other children of celebrities, who hadn’t come out until they reached an older age.
Zaya’s coming out felt especially beautiful to me. I grew up in a traditional southern family in Augusta, Georgia, in the nineties. I was taught that “blood is thicker than water” and that whatever I went through in life, my parents and siblings would have my back.
However, as I began to understand my identity, I had doubts about whether my family would continue to embrace me. I knew that I wanted to be loved for who I truly am, which meant I would have to share my truth with them. I worried about their response, especially because I had limited language to de- scribe what I’d felt for as long as I could remember.
Like many of us, I had never experienced an open and affirm- ing discussion of the complexity of gender identity and sexual orientation. Taunted for my femininity and called “gay” for much of my youth, I had always known that I was attracted to boys.
As I tried to make sense of my experience, I would eventually learn that I was a transgender woman. Would I live a life isolated from healthy, transformative relationships? Would my family disown me, as other families had been known to do with their LGBTQ+ loved ones?
I really want people to see that there are so many different ways that queer people can create families and that queer people have families. When we were growing up, if you heard about us, family wasn’t a part of that conversation. Don’t listen to what the outside world is saying. Just focus on what’s best for you and your family.”—MYLES BRADY DAVIS
If they did, I could hardly blame them, given that we live in a society that has a history of erasing and diminishing LGBTQ+ figures and narratives. The media we were exposed to—like The Cosby Show, In Living Color and Family Matters—rarely, if ever, showed LGBTQ+ folks in positive and affirming ways. Shows like Will & Grace and Ellen (the sitcom that Degeneres came out on) explored a White LGBTQ+ experience.
Furthermore, few of us were aware of historical figures like Bayard Rustin, a gay Black man who was one of the lead organizers of the March on Washington and Civil Rights, and Marsha P. Johnson, a Black transgender woman who was instrumental in the 1969 Stonewall Riots that kicked off the LGBTQ Rights Movement. The result was that I felt isolated and invisible. I often wonder how my life would have been different if my family and I had had LGBTQ+ church and community members to lean on during my formative years. Maybe I would have been able to find my voice sooner.
When, as a teenager, I began talking to my parents about my identity, it wasn’t always a positive experience. Initially, they were in disbelief and shock, and sometimes our arguments became intense; one resulted in my father throwing and breaking a wooden chair.
Still, we continued to extend grace to one another, vowing to work through their ignorance about what it meant to raise an LGBTQ+ child. Though they didn’t have all the answers and tools to support me, I knew that our relationship contained the love and commitment that would allow us to grow into a family that was authentically beautiful.
Despite our rocky start, my mother is now a board member of PFLAG, an organization dedicated to providing support and resources to families, loved ones and allies of LGBTQ+ people. My sister has become an active and vocal champion of LGBTQ+ employees in her workplace, and my brother’s attitudes toward the LGBTQ+ community have also evolved.
Although my father has since passed, I am blessed to live with no regrets about his knowing the real me. I’m grateful to have an origin family that’s grown along with me, and while that’s worth celebrating, so are the many ways that folks make family when that kind of trans- formation isn’t possible.
The world is changing for Black LGBTQ+ folks, and our experiences are gradually becoming less of a novelty. Statis- tics from the Williams Institute show us that at least 12 percent of the LGBTQ+ community is Black. And more people are living and loving openly as their full selves. Black queer and trans women, like Laverne Cox, Janet Mock and Lena Waithe, have become household names; and cast members from the FX hit show Pose—Mj Rodriguez, Dominique Jackson, Indya Moore, Billy Porter and Angelica Ross—are being acknowledged and awarded for their historic performances.
We can find representation in musicians like Frank Ocean, Young M.A and Lil Nas X, athletes like Michael Sam and Caster Semenya, and news anchor Don Lemon. Still, we are sorely missing rep- resentation of who we are beyond these public examples. We need more families like the Wades who openly and lovingly affirm LGBTQ+ identities.
To celebrate Pride Month, we must honor the myriad of ways in which Black LGBTQ+ folks create family and a sense of belonging. In addition to my own story, we’ll hear from advocates Myles and Precious Brady-Davis, a Black transgender couple who recently welcomed their first child, Zayn. We also explore Twiggy Pucci Garçon’s role as overall overseer, in the ballroom scene, of the international House of Commes des Garçon. (All of which are in the current 50th anniversary issue of ESSENCE, on stands now, and coming soon online this month.)
These stories of unity can continue to transform how we all think about Black family structure, particularly in regard to gender and sexual orientation. And these stories of love, of LGBTQ+ folks who are thriving within affirming communities, are pivotal in shifting how we think about ourselves and one another. After all, each one of us wants to be respected and loved, to have the livelihoods we deserve and to have the support we need to create a better, more liberated future for our people.Share :