Dwyane Wade has always been proud of his kids — he regularly posts photos of his son's basketball games on Instagram, and gamely dressed up as a cactus to join wife Gabrielle Union and daughter Kaavia get into the Halloween spirit. But he's also using his platform to reflect on how he's learned to be a better parent to each of his kids, modeling both the support and perspective that so many LGBTQ+ young people need in their lives.
During a recent appearance on the All The Smoke podcast, the basketball star opened up about learning "strength and courage" from 12-year-old Zaya. "In our household, we talk about making sure our kids are being seen by each of us," he explained. "We talk about making sure our kids understand the power of their voice. We want them to be whoever they feel they can be in this world."
For the Wade family, that includes showing up for Zaya by attending Pride parades together, as they did in 2018, and telling bigoted strangers to stand down. Over the Thanksgiving holiday, Union posted a family photo that drew ire from people who believed it was their right to criticize Zaya's crop top and nail extensions. Wade quickly shut the bigoted commentary down.
"When I respond to things socially, I'm not responding because you hurt my feelings. I'm not responding because I even care enough about what you're saying," he said during his podcast appearance. "I'm responding because I understand my platform. I understand that I'm speaking for a lot of people that don't have the same voice that I have."
He added that while his speaking out is effectively "speaking for my 12-year-old right now," serving as proxy is due in part to the fact that "I haven't allowed him to sit in front of a microphone yet. But I'm speaking for so many others in the LGBTQ+ community. So for me, it's just my version of support."
The Miami Heat player also explained how Zaya's growth pushed Wade to reflect on whether he was being the best father he could be to his children, no matter their sexuality or gender.
"I had to look myself in the mirror and say, 'What if your son comes home and tell you he's gay? What are you going to do? How are you going to be? How are you gonna act? It ain't about him. He knows who he is. It's about you. Who are you?'" Wade stressed that he is proud of "who she eventually has come into. And for me it's all about, nothing changes with my love. Nothing changes in my responsibilities. So all I've got to do now is get smarter and educate myself more. And that's my job."
It's critical that LGBTQ+ kids receive support from their parents, throughout their coming out and the rest of their lives. Studies have shown that affirmation and love from family and close friends greatly impacts young LGBTQ+ people's mental health and overall well-being for the better. Some young people don't feel safe coming out to their parents, or fear being rejected in doing so. Research shows that such rejection can lead to a host of negative health outcomes, and family conflict is the most common reason why LGBTQ+ youth experience homelessness.
According to GLAAD, 80 percent of non-LGBTQ+ Americans want equal rights for LGBTQ+ people, but that manifests has shifted over the years from active allyship towards what GLAAD calls "detached support." The Supreme Court is currently deliberating three cases that would determine whether employers can discriminate against LGBTQ+ employees. And the more people like Wade underscore the power of embracing their children and loved ones as they are, the more other people know that such a response is the correct one — and how non-LGBTQ+ allies can position themselves as support systems.
Experts agree that young LGBTQ+ people deciding whether to come out to their family and friends should always feel empowered to do so in their own way, and on their own timeline; many young LGBTQ+ people also consider their own safety prior to doing so. It's also worth reminding parents and loved ones who they can or cannot tell, and what kind of support you're looking for in the process. Not all parents are celebrities with massive platforms, but how they handle their children's stories always matters. PFLAG offers resources for allies, as do the Family Acceptance Project and the Trevor Project.
"Everybody get used to it: This is the new normal," Wade added, noting that he believes the people who should be seen as "different" are "the ones that don't understand it. The ones that don't get it, the ones whose heads are stuck in a box."
At the end of the day, his mantra as a parent is simple: "It's my job to support you, and make sure that you have all the tools you need to be as happy as you can be in this world," he added.
Editor's note: This story has been updated to reflect Zaya's name, which her father affirmed on television in February 2020.
To learn more about issues affecting the LGBTQ+ community, head to lgbt.mtv.com.