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Dwayne Wade & Gabrielle Union powerfully call for Black trans rights at NAACP Awards

Dwayne Wade & Gabrielle Union powerfully call for Black trans rights at NAACP Awards
Gabrielle Union and Dwayne Wade at the 2023 NAACP Image Awards. Photo: Screenshot

Dwayne Wade and Gabrielle Union received the President’s Award recognizing their “special achievement and distinguished public service” at Saturday’s 2023 NAACP Image Awards. The couple — whose advocacy work includes efforts supporting Black-owned small businesses and community organizations, empowering communities of color, and ending gun violence — used their joint acceptance speech to spotlight Black transgender people at a time when trans rights are under attack across the United States.

Speaking first, Wade delivered a moving tribute to his daughter Zaya, who is trans.

“Zaya, as your father, all I’ve wanted to do was get it right,” Wade said. “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.”

“As your father, my job isn’t to create a version of myself or direct your future,” he continued. “My role is to be a facilitator to your hopes, your wishes, and your dreams. Zaya, you’ve made me a better human just simply by being who you were born to be: our baby girl, Zaya Wade. So, baby, thank you for showing the world what courage looks like. I’m proud that I was chosen to stand in place as your father.”

In her speech, Union spoke more broadly and forcefully about the need to recognize and support Black trans people.

“It’s humbling to stand here surrounded by friends and heroes, OGs [“original gangsters,” slang for extraordinary people] and icons, all working to advance the lives of Black people and pay respect to an organization that had led us through over a century of relentless challenge, pain, triumph, and change,” she said, “and 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?”

“The intersection of Black rights and the rights of the LGBTQIA, trans, and gender nonconforming people continues to be rough,” she continued. “Even as we demand equality at the top of our lungs, we consistently fail to extend our advocacy to protect some of our most vulnerable among us.”

“Black trans people are being targeted, terrorized, and hunted in this country every day, everywhere, and there’s rarely whisper about it,” Union said. According to a report released by the Human Rights Campaign late last year, Black transgender women have comprised 63 percent of all the trans and gender nonconforming people killed since 2013, while 85 percent of all victims were people of color.

“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,” Union continued. “This is a conversation worth having in ways that can actually build bridges. That don’t fan the flames of hatred or division, that don’t enable lawmakers or justice systems to look the other way when Black trans people are under attack, that don’t drive more young people to hate themselves or harm themselves, that don’t cost people their lives.”

The award wasn’t the only thing the Wade-Union family had to celebrate over the weekend. On Friday, a Los Angeles judge signed off on Wade’s petition to allow Zaya to legally change her name and gender markers on official documents. The decision marked the end of a legal battle that saw Zaya’s biological mother Siovaughn Funches-Wade attempting to prevent their 15-year-old daughter from transitioning until she turned 18.

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