Surrounded by an audience entirely on their feet and with tears in their eyes, Caitlyn Jenner took the stage at the ESPYs on Wednesday to accept the Arthur Ashe Award for Courage. In what was an eloquent and completely heartfelt speech, Jenner called on humanity to help continue making positive changes for the trans community.
“The last few months have been a whirlwind of so many different experiences and emotions, but to tell you the truth, it feels like every time I turn around in life I’m putting myself in these high-pressure situations,” she said. At this point, she could have launched straight into her journey of transition, but instead opted for a little lightheartedness.
“OK, girls, I get it,” she joked of picking out her elegant floor-length white gown. “It was exhausting, and next, the Fashion Police. Please be kind on me. I’m new at this.”
After taking a moment to acknowledge the U.S. Women’s Soccer Team, Jenner discussed the challenge of dealing with her transition in private, but quickly turned the spotlight from herself to young trans people in the world. “They’re learning that they’re different,” she said. “They’re getting bullied, they’re getting beaten up, they’re getting murdered and they’re committing suicide.
“If there’s one thing I do know about my life, it is the power of the spotlight,” she said. “Sometimes it gets overwhelming, but with action comes responsibility.” Jenner shared that she fully plans to do everything she can moving forward to help “reshape the landscape of how trans issues are viewed” and how trans people are treated.
“Learn as much as you can about another person to understand them better,” Jenner said, calling on the audience – and the athletes who have a platform to speak – to help inspire change in the world. “We have come a long way, but we have a lot of work to do.”
Jenner finally teared up when it came to thanking her family, who were all sitting together in the audience, including her 10 children, mother and sister. Jenner had previously made it known that the fear that the truth would harm her family kept her from taking any action earlier in life. “I never wanted to hurt anyone else,” she said. “I always wanted my children to be proud of their dad…you guys have given so much back to me, you’ve given me so much support. I’m so grateful to have all of you in my life.”
Although Jenner acknowledged that having the word “courage” associated with her was an honor in itself, another word rang true with her, “…and that is ‘fortunate.'” Jenner called attention to the supportive family and friends, with a special note for Diane Sawyer, the first journalist Jenner publicly discussed the transition with earlier this year.
The touching moment also came with a message to people who would rather be negative about Jenner’s story and the trans community. “If you want to call me names, make jokes, question my intentions, go ahead. I can take it,” she confidently told the audience. But young people dealing with transitioning, and coming to terms with who they are, “they shouldn’t have to take it,” she added to yet another round of applause.
“It’s not just about one person – it’s about thousands of people. It’s not just about me,” she reiterated, “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 possible if we only do it together.”
Watch her speech below:
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