Caitlyn Jenner received this year’s Arthur Ashe Courage Award at the ESPYs, and by the end of her ten-minute speech, which centered around her activism on behalf of the transgender community, she had won over even her most staunch critics.
After an introductory video montage that chronicled Jenner's journey from Olympic hero to transgender woman, Jenner walked onto the stage in a beautiful white Atelier Versace gown. But the true beauty of the evening came in the form of her words, which focused not on her own experiences but the harsh realities that trans people without her resources face today.
“With attention comes responsibility,” she explained, before mentioning Mercedes Williamson, a 17-year-old trans teen girl who was found murdered in Mississippi last month, as well as Sam Taub, a trans teen boy who killed himself in April.
"I owe a lot to sports," Jenner said. "It’s showed me the world. It’s given me an identity. If someone wanted to bully me, well, you know what, I was the MVP of the football team — that just wasn’t going to be a problem. And the same goes tonight. If you want to call me names, make jokes, doubt my intentions, go ahead. Because the reality is, I can take it."
She continued, "But for the thousands of kids out there 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 [don’t always] understand, I want to prove that it is absolutely possible if we only do it together."
Jenner summed up her thoughts with a simple message. “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.”
The Olympian and reality star graciously accepted two standing ovations from the audience. Her children and stepchildren, including Kim Kardashian, whose husband Kanye West Caitlyn credits with helping the family accept her transition, looked on with pride. Also in attendance were her close friend Diane Sawyer, as well as her mother Esther Jenner, 89. In her speech, Caitlyn also paid homage to Laverne Cox and Janet Mock for paving the way before her.
While many have criticized ESPN for choosing Jenner as the recipient of this year's Arthur Ashe Courage Award, it's hard to deny her speech was gracious, generous and inspirational.
Watch a clip of the speech below.