Wednesday night’s ESPYs Awards ceremony was punctuated by a teary-eyed but resounding Caitlyn Jenner speech. U.S. women’s soccer vet Abby Wambach presented the transgender icon with the Arthur Ashe Courage Award for her perseverance in fulfilling her journey and for calling on the sports community to accept each other’s differences. As you’ll see in the clip, Jenner stepped up and owned the spotlight, mixing in grace, humor, inspiration, and authenticity to deliver one hell of an address. She even had some words for her haters.
Now, 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-pressure situations: competing in the Games, raising a family, but I’ve never felt more pressure than I’ve ever felt in my life than over the last couple months — picking out this outfit. Okay, girls, I get it! You gotta get the shoes, the hair, the makeup, the whole process. It was exhausting. And next: the fashion police. Ugh, please be kind to me. I’m new at this. But anyway. And I just want to take a quick shout-out to our soccer team: They have absolutely … ladies, you clean up very well.
Well, the real truth is, a few months ago, I had never met anyone else who was trans. Who was like me. I had never met a trans person. Never. As you saw, I dealt with my situation on my own, in private. And that turned this journey into an already-incredible education. It’s been inspiring, but also frightening. All across the 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’re 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 you heard before are staggering, but they are the reality of what it’s like to be trans today. 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. Every time something like this happens, people wonder: Could it have been different if spotlighting this issue with more attention could’ve changed the way things happened? We’ll never know.
If there’s one thing I do know about my life it’s 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 in going forward: to tell my story the right way, for me, to keep learning, to do whatever I can 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 enough 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 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. 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 who have traveled this road before me. From sports: Renée Richards to Chaz Bono to Laverne Cox, and many others. Janet Mock is here tonight. And I want to thank them all publicly. As well as the ESPYs and the late Arthur Ashe and his family for giving me this platform to start this 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. 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.
Here comes the tough part: I’d like to thank my family. Now, the biggest fear I’ve always had in coming out is 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 his dad, for 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, 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 is here with me tonight to share this night. Now, you know I always thought 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 realizing now, Mom, I think I got all those qualities from you. Love you very much. I’m so glad you’re here to share this with me.
It is an honor to have the word courage associated with my life. But on this night, another word comes to mind, and that is fortunate. I owe a lot to sports. It’s showed me the world. It’s given me an identity. If somebody wanted to bully me, well, you know what I was the MVP of the football team and that just wasn’t going to be a problem. 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 be easy to get past the things you always don’t understand, I want to prove that it’s absolutely possible if we only do it together.
Thank you so much for this platform. Thank you so much for this honor, bestowed on myself and my family. Thank you.
You go, Cait. Congrats!