In her first major appearance since coming out as transgender, Caitlyn Jenner took the stage at the ESPY Awards in Los Angeles to a standing ovation. And in front of some of the world’s biggest athletes and celebrities, she told the world what the transgender community needs.
“Trans people deserve something vital: They deserve your respect,” Jenner said, as NBC reported. “If you want to call me names, make jokes, doubt my intentions, go ahead, because the reality is, I can take it,” she said. “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.”
Jenner was this year’s recipient of the Arthur Ashe Courage Award, named for the African American tennis star who died of AIDS in 1993.
Here’s the full text of Jenner’s comments:
“Thank you so much. It is so wonderful to be here tonight. The last few months have been a whirlwind of so many different experiences and emotions. But to tell you the truth, it seems like every time I turn around in life, I’m putting myself in these high-pressured situations. Competing in the Games, raising a family. But I’ve never felt more pressured than I ever have in my life than the last couple of months. Picking out this outfit — okay, girls, I get it! [Laughter.] You got to get the shoes, the hair, the makeup, the whole process. It was exhausting. And next, the fashion police — please be kind on me. I’m new at this.
“But I just want to say a quick shout out to our soccer team. [Applause.] Ladies, you clean up very well.
“But the real truth is, before a few months ago, I had never met anybody else who was trans, who was like me. I had never met a trans person, never. Now, as you just saw, I dealt with my situation on my own in private, and that turned this journey into an already incredible education.
“It’s been eye-opening, inspiring, but also frightening. All across this country, right now, all across the world, at this very moment, there are young people coming to terms with being transgender. 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. The numbers that you just heard before are staggering, but they are the reality of what it is like to be trans today.
“Just last month, the body of 17-year-old Mercedes Williamson, a transgendered young woman of color, was found in a field in Mississippi stabbed to death. I also want to tell you about Sam Taub, a 15-year-old transgendered young man from Bloomfield, Michigan. In early April, Sam took his own life. Now, Sam’s story haunts me in particular because his death came just a few days before my interview with Diane Sawyer. Every time something like this happens, people wonder, ‘Could it have been different if spotlighting this issue with more attention could have changed the way things happen?’ We’ll never know.
“If there’s one thing I do know about my life, it is the power of the spotlight. Sometimes it gets overwhelming, but with attention comes responsibility. As a group, as athletes, how you conduct your lives, what you say, what you do is absorbed and observed by millions of people, especially young people. I know I’m clear with my responsibility going forward, to tell my story the right way, for me, to keep learning, 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.
“My plea to you tonight is to join me in making this one of your issues as well. How do we start? We start with education. I was fortunate to meet Arthur Ashe a few times, and I know how important education was to him. Learn as much as you can about another person to understand them better.
“I know the people in this room have respect for hard work, for training, for going through something difficult to achieve the outcome that you desire. I trained hard, I competed hard, and for that, people respected me.
“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. [Applause.] And from that respect comes a more compassionate community, a more empathetic society and a better world for all of us.
“There have been so many people that have traveled this road before me. From, in sports, Renée Richards to Chaz Bono, to Laverne Cox, and many others. Janet Mock is with us tonight. And I want to thank them all publicly, and the ESPYs, and the late Arthur Ashe, for giving me this platform to start the next phase of my journey. I also want to acknowledge all the young trans athletes who are out there — given the chance to play sports as who they really are.
“And now, as of this week, it appears that trans people will soon be serving in the military. That’s a great idea. We have come a long way. But we have a lot of work to do.
“I’d like to thank personally my buddy Diane Sawyer. You know, you can only tell your story the first time once, and, Diane, you did it so authentically and so gracefully. And me and the community are so thankful for that. And I thank you so much, Diane. I’m so proud to have you as a friend. [Applause.]
“Here comes the tough part. I’d like to thank my family. The biggest fear in Caitlyn Jenner coming out was I never wanted to hurt anyone else, most of all my family and my kids. I always wanted my family to be so proud of their dad because of what he has accomplished in his life. You guys have given so much back to me, you’ve given me so much support, I’m so, so grateful to have all of you in my life. Thank you.
“And certainly last, but not least, my mother. My mom who, just a little over a week ago, had to have surgery and didn’t think she was going to make it, but she’s here with me tonight to share this night. Now, you know I always thought that I got my courage and my determination from my dad, who landed on Omaha Beach and fought all the way through World War II. But you know what I’m thinking now, Mom, is that I got all these qualities from you. I love you very much. I’m so glad you’re here to share this with me.
“You know, it is an honor to have the word ‘courage’ associated with my life. But tonight another word comes to mind and that is fortunate. I owe a lot to sports. It has shown 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. (applause.)
“So for the people out there wondering what all this is 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 are 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 do not understand, I want to prove that it is absolutely possible if we only do it together.
“Thank you so much for this. Thank you so much for this honor bestowed on myself and on my family. Thank you.”