How Gabrielle Union and Dwyane Wade Have Used Their Platform for Advocacy
By Jennifer Drysdale
Johnny Nunez/Getty Images for Stance
Gabrielle Union and Dwyane Wade know the power of their platform, and they're not afraid to use it. The couple have used their personal experiences to advocate for equality, acceptance, and more.
"Well, we're not the only family that deals with all the things we've spoken about," Wade told ET at the premiere of his ESPN documentary, D. Wade: Life Unexpected, in February. "We're not the only family that had to deal with surrogacy, to bring our daughter into the world. We're not the only family that's had to deal with gender expression, gender identity, sexuality, with their child."
"We understand the position we've been put in, especially in our community, and even though it's not always a popular thing to speak out on issues that people are uncomfortable with or not as educated on, but this is the platform that God gave me and my family," he added. "So, we use it."
Wade's comments to ET came soon after he introduced his 13-year-old child, Zaya, to fans, and opened up about her gender identity. He and Union have been praised for their support of their daughter and the LGBTQ community, but it's not the only issue they've spoken out about. They have also sparked important conversations about infertility, sexual abuse, race and workplace harassment, based on their own experiences. ET is looking back at how Union and Wade have been advocates for change throughout the years.
Union became a stepmom to Wade's children after their 2014 wedding. As she revealed in her 2017 memoir, We're Going to Need More Wine, she didn't want kids before being a stepmother, but quickly found herself craving motherhood. Her and Wade's efforts to expand their family led to "eight or nine" miscarriages. "For three years, my body has been a prisoner of trying to get pregnant -- I’ve either been about to go into an IVF cycle, in the middle of an IVF cycle, or coming out of an IVF cycle," she wrote.
That pain was only exacerbated by friends and fans' constant questions about when Union would have children.
"Whether or not someone has kids is such a personal question, and people, especially in this day and age, feel very entitled to not only know what you are using your vagina for in terms of reproducing other human beings, but who have you invited up there," Union said in a 2017 interview with ET.
"I guess that is an a** backwards way of telling people, 'Please stay out of my vagina,' by talking about my vagina in a book and on a press tour," she joked. "I will sacrifice my vagina and her adventures for everyone. The greater good of women and men and couples out there who this is a very private and personal journey and when or if they ever opt to share it in their own time."
"Towards the end of my fertility journey I finally got some answers,” she said at the BlogHer conference. "Everyone said, ‘You’re a career woman, you’ve prioritized your career, you waited too long and now you’re just too old to have a kid -- and that’s on you for wanting a career,'" she added. "The reality is I actually have adenomyosis."
"The gag is I had it in my early 20s," she continued. "Instead of diagnosing me, [doctors] were like, 'Oh you have periods that last 9 or 10 days and you’re bleeding through overnight pads … perhaps there’s something more there.' ... Every doctor I saw was like, 'Let me put you on birth control.'"
One year later, in November 2018, Union and Wade welcomed their first child together, daughter Kaavia James, via surrogate. "We are sleepless and delirious but so excited to share that our miracle baby arrived last night via surrogate and 11/7 will forever be etched in our hearts as the most loveliest of all the lovely days," Union wrote on Instagram at the time. "Welcome to the party sweet girl!"
Wade and Union introduced fans to Zaya in February, praising her for being authentic to herself. "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," Union tweeted at the time.
During an appearance on The Ellen DeGeneres Show soon after, Wade explained, "Zaya, our 12-year-old, 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. And so internally, now it's our job to one, go out and get information, to reach out to every relationship that we have."
"Once Zion came home and said, 'Hey, you call me Zaya. I'm ready to take on this,' I looked at her and said, 'You are a leader. You are a leader. And this is our opportunity to allow you to be a voice,'" he continued. "Right now, it's through us because she's 12 years old. But eventually, it'll be through her."
"For me, it's always about being able to adapt and being able to learn, and always being able to grow," he shared. "I think coming from the inner city of Chicago early on, I was kind of closed-minded on a lot of things. And I've been with my wife, traveling the world, meeting people, going to different places, I've learned to keep my mind open, keep my eyes open, keep my heart open, keep my thoughts open."
"That's what I've been trying to do as I'm growing into the man that I've always dreamed of becoming," Wade said.
Union and Wade proudly supported Zaya at her first red carpet at the 2020 Truth Awards in Los Angeles in early March. Wade raved over the event on his Instagram, praising it for highlighting the accomplishments of the Black LGBTQ community and its allies. He also expressed his pride over Zaya, for emerging "as one of the young faces and voices for the LGBTQ+ community."
In 1992, when she was 19 years old, Union was sexually assaulted at gunpoint by a robber at her part-time job at a Payless shoe store. The actress -- who has lobbied Congress and state legislatures about the treatment of rape victims -- candidly recalled her attack and the aftermath in her memoir. As she wrote, decades later, her rape "still influences everything I do."
"Sometimes I'll be in the ladies' room, washing my hands next to another woman. She'll take a few glances, which I notice, and as I'm readying myself to walk out the door, she'll say, 'Me too.' She doesn’t have to tell me what she means. I nod. I’ve been doing rape advocacy and sharing my own story since the beginning of my career," Union said. "We don't hug. We don't cry. She nods back at me. Just two women in a moment of mutual respect, acknowledging the truth and consequences of our experience. Feeling, in that moment, less alone on our respective islands."
Union opened up more about her rape in a 2017 interview with ET, fighting back against those who suggest women should dress more modestly to avoid sexual assault.
"The night I was raped, I had on a tunic and leggings. I was dressed very modestly and I was still raped at gunpoint," Union said. "The idea that your clothing should somehow indicate whether you're the right kind of girl or whether you are deserving of sexual violence or not is incredibly dangerous."
"Your clothing isn't going to make or break whether or not it can happen to you. Your race, religion, height, weight, hairstyle, none of those things makes a difference because at the end of the day, sexual violence isn't about sex, it's about violence and power," she added. "People who talk about wearing modest clothing sure aren't modest about that."
Among the incidents Variety reported were an alleged racially insensitive joke made by guest judge Jay Leno, a contestant whose quick-changing act reportedly included the use of dark makeup on his hands to portray Beyoncé, and allegedly numerous comments from network executives about Union's hairstyles being "too Black." That particular comment inspired fans and friends to share photos of their hair, to promote acceptance and pride for Black styles.
NBC and Fremantle, the production company behind AGT, said they had a "long history of inclusivity" and that they were taking the concerns seriously. Meanwhile, Wade expressed his support for his wife on Twitter and claimed she was fired. "If anyone knows @itsgabrielleu or have heard of her you know she’s an advocate for our community and culture," he wrote, in part.
Wade was by Union's side every step of the way as she continued discussions with NBC and Fremantle over the changes she'd like to see at AGT to combat workplace harassment and discrimination.
Union later filed a discrimination complaint against NBC, Simon Cowell, FremantleMedia and Syco Entertainment with California's Department of Fair Employment and Housing. The complaint has since been closed, as Union requested an immediate right to sue, which she was granted. The complaint was made after NBC conducted an independent investigation into her claims.
The actress told Variety in May that she struggled with the decision to speak out about her concerns. "I had to look at myself and say, 'Do you want to keep it easy? Or do you want to be you, and stand up?'" she recalled. "Because I'm not the only one being poisoned at work."
"At the end of all this, my goal is real change -- and not just on this show but for the larger parent company," Union added. "It starts from the top down. My goal is to create the happiest, most high-functioning, inclusive, protected and healthy example of a workplace."