Caitlyn Jenner brought a nation to tears and the ESPY audience to its feet with her emotional words accepting the Arthur Ashe Courage Award.
Jenner vowed to help "reshape the landscape for how trans issues are viewed, how trans people are treated” andthe 65-year-old Olympic gold medal winner said her mission is now clear.
“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,” Jenner said.
“I know I’m clear with my responsibility going forward, to tell my story the right way — for me, to keep learning, to do whatever I can to reshape the landscape for 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.”
The suicide of 17-year-old Ohio teen Leelah Alcorn just after Christmas hit home for many in the LGBT community. The trans teen wrote of the years or bullying and her parents’ rejection in a gut-wrenching note before ending her life.
Jenner named the deaths of two other young people whose stories have deeply touched her.
“They’re getting bullied, they’re getting beaten up, they’re getting murdered and they’re committing suicide,” she said.
“Just last month, the body of 17-year-old Mercedes Williamson, a transgender 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 transgender 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 ABC aired my interview with Diane Sawyer.”
Jenner acknowledged that not everybody accepts her, but said she can handle it.
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“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 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 easy to get past the things you … don’t understand, I want to prove that it is absolutely possible if we only do it together.”
The issue of acceptance clearly was one with which Jenner made clear she had to grapple.
There was no more emotional moment for some than to see Jenner's 88-year-old mother, Esther, sitting beside her and then blowing kisses to Caitlyn as she stood on the ESPY stage.
During Diane Sawyer’s ABC interview with Jenner in April, Esther Jenner recorded a message of love for Caitlyn.
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“I want you to be happy, and I love you. I was very proud of you when you stood on that podium in Montreal – I never thought I could be more proud of you, but I’m learning I can be,” she said, bringing the 1976 gold medal decathalon winner to tears.
“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,” Caitlyn Jenner said of her late dad, William, who died in 2000.
“But you know what I’m realizing now, Mom, I think I got all those qualities from you. I love you very much. I’m so glad you’re here to share this with me.”
She also thanked her children and stepchildren, many of whom were in the audience cheering their dad on.
“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 children to be so proud of their dad because of what he was able to accomplish 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.”