Earlier this week, actress Gabrielle Union took to social media to introduce the world to her transgender stepdaughter, Zaya. In a video Union posted of Zaya talking with her dad, Dwayne Wade, the 12-year-old talks about the importance of being yourself. Even when people get hurt by being who they are, Zaya thinks that people should still be their authentic selves. The wise beyond her years girl asks, “What’s the point of being on this earth if you’re going to be someone you’re not?” Though it is not always safe for an LGBTQ person to come out in certain circumstances, if you can, Zaya would probably say you should. And she has a point: while it may be difficult to be true to yourself, you shouldn’t have to live waiting for a day when you will be able to be free to be you. Criticism and self-doubt should not be the things that keep you from being true to you.
Zaya is a lucky child: she has parents who not only accept who she is but are committed to learning from her as she reveals herself to the world. Though it should be the norm that parents accept and love their children no matter what, some parents are not capable of giving love unconditionally. So, until every parent can love their LGBTQ child without conditions, we have to amplify those who are parenting the right way. Gabrielle Union and Dwayne Wade shouldn’t be canonized for simply doing their jobs as parents, but the way they continue to learn from and grow with their children should be an exemplar. They are using their place of privilege as celebrities to show the world what it means to be not only parents, but LGBTQ allies.
Even the way in which Union shared that Zaya is transgender allowed for Zaya to be in charge of how she let the world know who she is; the video is of Zaya speaking, and Union’s only addition to what Zaya says in the video os “Meet Zaya. She’s compassionate, loving, whip smart and we are so proud of her. It’s Ok to listen to, love & respect your children exactly as they are. Love and light good people.” By introducing Zaya in such a way, Union takes the spotlight that is being shone on her and shifts it to her daughter. In a moment when Union could have made it all about herself, she chooses to be silent and let Zaya speak, a lesson we could all stand to learn from. Even the most well-intentioned LGBTQ allies sometimes choose to tell stories from their own perspectives instead of giving marginalized LGBTQ folks the chance to speak on their own behalf. Too often we think that we should have everything figured out right away, and like Union stated in a later tweet, we all have much to learn. Being an ally does not mean you are perfect and cannot make a mistake: it means if you do make a mistake, you accept it and learn from it. The next time someone who is LGBTQ needs their voice amplified, ask how you can help and be ready to listen and step aside.