Respect Diversity + Inclusion

Basketball superstar Dwyane Wade opens up about his transgender 12-year-old

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Story at a glance

  • Dwayne Wade first talked about his child’s gender identity during a podcast interview late last December, expressing his support and admiration for her.
  • Wade’s 12-year-old, who had with his first wife, was born biologically a male named Zion, and has now chosen to be identified by female pronouns she/her/hers.
  • Wade opened up about Zaya during a recent interview with LGBTQ talk show host Ellen DeGeneres.
  • Bearing in mind that a child coming out to their parents doesn’t always result in an easy conversation, we got advice for parents from an expert at the Human Rights Campaign, the largest LGBTQ+ advocacy group and political lobbying organization in the country.

Dwyane Wade, a former basketball player for the Miami Heat, is showing that he can lead by example both on the court and when it comes to accepting and supportive parenting. Last December, Wade first started using “she/her” pronouns when referring to his 12-year-old child Zaya, who was born biologically a male and named Zion.

Wade first started using new pronouns when describing his child during an interview with Showtime’s “All the Smoke” podcast in December, making a huge statement with one shift in his lexicon. 

“I’ve watched my son from day one become into who she now eventually has come into. And for me it’s all about…nothing changes with my love, nothing changes with my responsibilities. Only thing I have to do now is get smarter and educate myself more, and that’s my job.”

During the same interview, Wade also praised his child’s strength saying, “…you want to talk about strength and courage? My 12-year-old has way more than I have. You can learn something from your kids. In our household, that’s all we talk about; we talk about making sure our kids are seen by each of us. Me and my wife [Gabrielle Union], we talk about making sure our kids understand the power in their voice. We want them to be whoever they feel they can be in this world. That’s our goal: Understand you can be whoever, you can be whatever.”

His interview with Ellen

During this Tuesday’s episode of “The Ellen DeGeneres Show,” Wade went into even more detail with host DeGeneres, who identifies as LGBTQ+ herself, about how he has supported his 12-year-old since Zaya first told him and Union that she wanted to be referred to using only female pronouns.

Ellen started the conversation by expressing her support for Wade and Union’s parenting practices. “First of all, I think it’s what every parent should be, is what you’re being right now, which is unconditionally loving your child and supporting your child in whoever they are,” said DeGeneres.

“Once Zaya… originally born Zion as a boy – came home and said, ‘Hey, so I want to talk to you guys. I think going forward I’m ready to live my truth, and I want to be referenced as ‘she’ and ‘her.’ I would love for you guys to call me Zaya,’ ” Wade recalled. 

“So internally, now it’s our job to go out and get information, to reach out to every relationship that we have, and we’re just trying to figure out as much information as we can to make sure we give our child the best opportunity to be her best self.”

Having that conversation, and beyond

Not everyone receives that same support when coming out to their parents. Many transgender youths are shamed for their decision to transition and tend to experience higher rates of mental health issues than the general population.

A study published in The Lancet offers compelling evidence that the distress and impairment, considered essential characteristics of mental disorders, among transgender individuals primarily arises in response to the discrimination, stigma, lack of acceptance and also abuse some may face on a regular basis. 

That pivotal conversation between parent/s and their LGBTQ+ child isn’t always easy, so we asked expert Ellen Kahn, Senior Director for Programs and Partnerships at the Human Rights Campaign, for advice on how to show your support as a parent during such an important time in their child’s life. 

How might a parent best react once told the news from their child that they identify as LGBTQ+ in order to show their support?

If you are the parent of a child who has just come out as LGBTQ the first thing to consider is that your child has taken the brave step to open up to you and has made a conscious choice to let you into their life and to be honest in their relationship with you. A parent might be surprised, shocked, angry — many reactions can follow, and it’s normal to have a range of emotions.  What’s most important for your child’s well-being, and for your relationship over time, is to express support, acceptance and unconditional love, even if you are still coming to terms with your child’s LGBTQ identity. 

Much like Dwayne Wade did, a step you can take to support your child is to immediately support them, thank them for sharing and let them know you are in their corner. Wade immediately told Zaya that she was a leader for sharing her truth, and that he will be her champion. Every child wants their parent to be their champion.

What are some ways/resources newly informed parents of LGBTQ+ children can use to better educate themselves on what their kid is going through?

There are many places, local and national, to find resources to support your child. HRC has a database of coming out resources, organized by identity, faith background, race and more. There, you can find stats on the experiences of LGBTQ youth, tips for coming out at school, in the doctor’s office, at church and more. Those resources can be found online at HRC’s website.

You can also look for other, more local resources. Is there a LGBTQ center in your city or nearby? Is there a support group for loved ones of LGBTQ people, such as PFLAG? Often, if there is a LGBTQ Pride celebration in your area, organizations will attend to share resources and share what events they have locally.

Are there any next steps that a parent should take once their kid comes out as transgender? 

There is no one way to be a transgender person. Your child may choose to use a different name or pronouns. They may want to change the way they dress, seek medical transitioning or otherwise present themselves to the world. As a parent, it is important that you first find out exactly what your child wants, and believe them. 

Familiarize yourself with the laws and policies your state, city or school district may have that could affect your child’s ability to live fully. You may have to fight for your child — and if you do, there is a vast network of parents who can support you. More resources for parents of trans youth, including how to connect to this network, can be found here.

Any other tips for parents?

If you are an educator or other youth-serving professional, you can learn more about supporting LGBTQ youth and creating inclusive environments for youth at HRC’s annual Time to THRIVE conference. This year’s conference kicks off on Friday in Washington, D.C.