Caitlyn Jenner accepting the ESPY Arthur Ashe Courage Award in Los Angeles on July 15. | ESPN
In her first public speaking appearance since coming out as Caitlyn Jenner on the cover of Vanity Fair this spring, the 1976 Olympic decathlon winner took the stage at the annual ESPY Awards in Los Angeles and pledged “to tell my story the right way… to keep learning, to do whatever I can to reshape the landscape of how trans issues are viewed, how trans people are treated. And then more broadly to promote a very simple idea: accepting people for who they are. Accepting people’s differences.”
Jenner was on hand July 15 to accept the Arthur Ashe Courage Award, named for the African-American tennis star who died of AIDS in 1993, presented by the sports cable network ESPN.
Early in her remarks, Jenner acknowledged that “before a just a few weeks ago… few months ago I had never met anybody else who was trans, who was like me. I had never met a trans person, never.” Her own coming out and the education process it has entailed, she said, has been “eye-opening, inspiring, but also frightening” — but she emphasized that the isolation she felt is faced by many other trans people at the outset.
“All across this country, right now, all across the world, at this very moment, there are young people coming to terms with being transgender,” Jenner said. “They’re learning that they're different and they are trying to figure out how to handle that, on top of every other problem that a teenager has. They're getting bullied, they're getting beaten up, they’re getting murdered and they’re committing suicide.”
Jenner, who as the world’s greatest athlete four decades ago has an unimpeachable reputation for hard work, told the ESPY audience, “But this transition has been harder on me than anything I could imagine. And that’s the case for so many others besides me. For that reason alone, trans people deserve something vital. They deserve your respect. And from that respect comes a more compassionate community, a more empathetic society, and a better world for all of us.”
Jenner concluded by acknowledging the privilege that her athletic career and wealth give her, and, with sports greats in the audience like the Yankees’ Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez looked on intently, she contrasted her position from that of so many young people just coming to understand who they are. “I owe a lot to sports,” she said. “It showed me the world, it has given me an identity. If someone wanted to bully me, well, you know what? I was the MVP of the football team. That wasn’t going to be a problem. And the same thing goes tonight. If you want to call me names, make jokes, doubt my intentions, go ahead, because the reality is I can take it. But for the thousands of kids out there who are coming to terms with being true to who they are, they shouldn’t have to take it.
“So for the people out there wondering what this is all about — whether it’s about courage or controversy or publicity — well, I’ll tell you what it’s all about. It’s about what happens from here. It’s not just about one person, it’s about thousands of people. It’s not just about me, it’s about all of us accepting one another. We’re all different. That’s not a bad thing, that’s a good thing and while it may not be easy to get past the things you always don’t understand, I want to prove that it is absolutely possible if we only do it together.”