Dwyane Wade and Gabrielle Union are offering a master class in parenting for anyone interested.
There’s no tuition or homework. No lectures or exams. Just watch the way they publicly and unconditionally love and support their children in the face of lame criticism from folks attached to strict gender roles.
On Thanksgiving, Union posted a family photo on Instagram, captioned, “Grateful. Happy Thanksgiving good people. To all the friends and family that have my back and all the friends and family I’ve never met who show love and support when everyone is looking and when no one is looking ... All praise, gratitude and thankfulness.”
Their son, Zion, 12, is wearing long, painted nails and a crop top.
Wade tweeted: “I’ve seen some post-thanksgiving hate on social about my family photo. 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!”
Writer and radio host Miyonce tweeted, “Idk if @DwyaneWade & @itsgabrielleu know how POWERFUL & MOVING it is that they’re embracing their son’s individuality. (Damnit I’m crying) In our community, being given autonomy over your body, beliefs, image, & statements as a child isn’t a thing. That child is free & happy.”
To which Wade replied, “As a parent my only goal is that my kids feel that i see them, love them and support them.”
In October, Wade shared a photo of Union with their baby daughter Kaavia James and Zion and wrote “MY GIRLS” on the photo with two hearts.
In April, Union and Zion attended the Miami Beach Pride parade, which a Variety reporter asked Wade about in June.
“I don’t really talk about it much because it’s Zion’s story to tell,” Wade said. “I think as a family, we should support each other. That’s our job. And my job as a father is to facilitate their lives and to support them and be behind them in whatever they want to do.”
He said he’s not interested in applause for loving his kids.
“This is my job as a father,” Wade said. “I’m very uneasy about accolades that come from supporting my kids or the negativity that comes from it. I’m doing what every parent has to do. Once you bring kids into this world, you become unselfish. It’s my job to be their role model, to be their voice in my kids’ lives, to let them know you can conquer the world. So, go and be your amazing self and we’re going to sit back and just love you.”
Accolades or not, there’s great power in what he and Union are doing: modeling to the world that childhood and parenting can look a million different ways, as long as love and inclusion are at the center.
The fact that Wade, a Chicago native and NBA All-Star who played for the Chicago Bulls, Cleveland Cavaliers and Miami Heat, and Union, an acclaimed actress, author and activist, are using their own lives and platforms to nudge people toward open hearts and open minds is a beautiful thing.
But you don’t have to be famous to wield that kind of power.
Family acceptance is the single biggest factor for reducing risks and creating positive outcomes for LGBTQ kids, according to research conducted by the Family Acceptance Project at San Francisco State University.
Young adults who identify as LGBTQ had significantly higher levels of self-esteem and overall health when they experienced strong family support, researchers found. LGBTQ youth with low levels of family acceptance were more than three times more likely to have suicidal thoughts and report suicide attempts, compared to youth with high family acceptance.
In 2018, the American Academy of Pediatrics released its first-ever policy statement for parents and clinicians caring for transgender and gender-diverse children and adolescents. The group calls for a “gender-affirming” approach.
“As a parent, even when you struggle to understand and may not see eye-to-eye, your most important role is to offer understanding, respect and unconditional love for your child,” Jason Rafferty, lead author of the policy statement told me at the time. “This builds trust and puts you in a better position to help them through difficult times. Research has shown that if a transgender teen has even just one supportive person in their life they can go to, it greatly reduces their risk of suicide.”
Rafferty shrugged off any potential criticism the statement would receive.
“The messages of this policy statement are very much in line with the core principles of pediatrics, including the importance of using a nonjudgmental, family-based, developmentally appropriate approach,” he told me. “It emphasizes that transgender and gender-diverse children – like all children – need support, love and care from family, school and society. When supported and loved as they grow and develop, kids mature into happy and healthy adults.”
Simple as that. Props to Wade and Union for continuing to show us what that support and love looks like in action.