Gabrielle Union and Dwyane Wade passionately called for a “new era of activism” for the Black trans community at the 2023 NAACP Image Awards.

On Saturday (25 February), the couple were honoured with the prestigious President’s Award for their continuous LGBTQ+ activism and unwavering support of their daughter, Zaya, who came out as transgender in 2020.

NAACP President and CEO Derrick Johnson told Variety that the Wades were chosen for “the way they stood up and are standing up” for Zaya, adding: “We have five kids — for me it’s very significant for a father to stand strong, a mother to stand strong in support of their child.”

Wade began the speech with a tribute to his daughter, who legally changed her name to Zaya Malachi Airamis Wade one day before the ceremony, saying “all I’ve wanted to do” as a “father” was to “get it right”.

“I’ve sat back and watch how gracefully you’ve taken on a public scrutiny,” he explained of the transphobic vitriol that has followed Zaya since she came out as transgender.

“And even though it’s not easy, I watched you walk out of that house every morning. As yourself. I admire how you’ve handled the ignorance in our world. I admire that you face every day. To say that your village is proud of you is an understatement.”

Wade said Zaya has “taught” him that “communication with my mouth isn’t enough, I have to also communicate with my two ears and my two eyes.”

“As your father, my job isn’t to create a version of myself or direct your future. My role is to be a facilitator to your hopes, your wishes and your dreams. Zaya, you’ve made me a better human just simply by being who you were born to be — a baby girl, Zaya Wade,” he said.

“So baby, thank you for showing the world what courage looks like. I’m proud that I was chosen to stand in place as your father and thank you so much NAACP for this incredible honor.”

Union then used her time on stage to demand a “new era of activism” for the lives of Black trans people, fervidly asking the crowd and viewers at home: “Will we fight for some, or will we fight for all of our people?”

The actress continued to name “a couple hard truths” surrounding the intersection of Black rights and the “rights of the LGBTQIA trans and gender non conforming people”, saying it “continues to be rough — that’s a huge understatement.”

“Even as we demand equality at the top of our lungs, we consistently failed to extend our advocacy to protect some of our most vulnerable among us,” she added, before highlighting how the Black trans community is being “targeted, terrorised and hunted” in the United States “every day everywhere, and there’s rarely a whisper about it.”

In 2022, 38 trans people were killed in the country as a result of hatred and bigotry, and a majority of these deaths were trans women of colour.

While Union noted that she and her husband have become “activists” and “leaders” for the LGBTQ+ community, she said their desire for change stems from their duty as parents to do “whatever the hell we can to keep them seen and secure and safe.”

“This is a conversation worth having in ways that can actually build bridges. That don’t fan the flames of hatred or division,” Union said to applause.

“That don’t enable lawmakers or justice systems to look the other way when Black trans people are under attack. That don’t drive more young people to hate themselves or harm themselves. That don’t cost people their lives.”

As she concluded her speech, Union said she’s “hopeful” that the future will “witness a real shift in the fight for justice” and will make “room for everyone”.

You can watch their speech in full here or below.