Olympian Caitlyn Jenner was announced as the recipient of the Arthur Ashe Courage Award a few months ago, but no advanced notice could’ve prepared us for her moving speech.
Instead of focusing solely on her accomplishments or what she’s been through in the past several months, Caitlyn shined a light on the brave people who usually exist in the shadows of visible transgender celebrities. She mentioned the tragic end of several transgender teens, including 17-year-old Mercedes Williams (she was fatally stabbed in Mississippi) and 15-year-old Sam Taub (he killed himself in early April). It’s Taub’s suicide that Caitlyn said hit her the hardest, happening just days before telling the world she was born a woman in a Diane Sawyer interview.
“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?’” she said. “We’ll never know.”
Caitlyn, who won the Olympic decathlon in 1976, talked about how much work she put in as an athlete, saying she earned respect by training hard and being a fierce competitor. But these last few months have been harder on Caitlyn than she could’ve ever imagined. It’s a story that so many are also experiencing.
“For that reason alone, trans people deserve something vital. They deserve your respect,” Caitlyn said. “And from that respect comes a more compassionate community, a more empathetic society, and a better world for all of us.”
With her children in the audience, all of them teary-eyed and seemingly proud, she also thanked her family for their support. She also took time to address her mother individually, saying she used to think she got her courage and determination from her war-hero father.
“But you know what I’m thinking now, Mom, is that I got all these qualities from you,” she said, as her mother smiled through tears. “I love you very much. I’m so glad you’re here to share this with me.”
Take 10 minutes out of your day to watch her full speech from the ESPYs.
You can also view the beautiful mini-doc that aired before Caitlyn accepted her speech.
— ESPYS (@ESPYS) July 16, 2015
RELATED STORY: What Laverne Cox, Janet Mock and Others Can Teach Us About Being Transgender in America