If there were medals for acceptance speeches, Caitlyn Jenner would have won the gold at the ESPY Awards. In her first major public appearance since revealing herself to the world, the Olympian-turned reality star-turned transgender activist delivered an absolutely impeccable speech that included a little humor and a lot of heart.
Even before she opened her mouth, it was obvious the audience was on her side. After a short movie recounted her athletic glory days as Bruce, Caitlyn received a standing ovation as she headed for the stage.
“Wow — I have to talk after that? Thank you so much. It is so wonderful to be here tonight,” she began. “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 ever have felt in my life than over the last couple of months. Picking out this outfit, OK girls, I get it: You’ve got to get the shoes, the hair, the makeup. The whole process, it’s exhausting — and next, the Fashion Police! Please be kind on me, I’m new at this!”
Things then turned more serious, as she highlighted the struggles trans people face. “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’re trying to figure out how to handle that on top of every other problem that a teenager has. They’re getting bullied. They’ve getting beaten up. They’re getting murdered. And they’re committing suicide.” Still, though, Caitlyn thinks there is hope.
“There have been so many who have traveled this road before me, from Renee Richards, to Chaz Bono to Laverne Cox, and many others, Janet Mock, who’s here tonight,” she said. “”I also want to acknowledge all of the young trans-athletes who are out there, given the chances to play sports as who they really are. 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.”
After quickly thanking Diane Sawyer for doing such a great job telling her story for the first time, Caitlyn moved on to the most heartwarming moment in her speech.
“Here comes the tough part,” she said, visibly tearing up. “I’d like to thank my family. The biggest fear I’ve had always in coming out is that 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 for what he was able to accomplish in his life.”
Judging from the tears welling in several of her children’s eyes, it’s safe to see she has succeeded at this goal. “You guys have given so much back to me. You’ve given me so much support. I’m so, so grateful to have you all in my life. Thank you.”
“My mom, who just a little over a week ago had to have surgery — I 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 that I got my courage and my determination from my dad,” Caitlyn mused, “but now 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.”
Caitlyn wrapped up by circling back to the place this story all began: with sports. “You know 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 showed 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 just wasn’t going to be a problem. And the same thing goes tonight.”
Addressing her critics head-on, she explained, “If you want to call me names, make jokes, doubt my intentions, go ahead, because the reality is, I can take it. But the reality is, for 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 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 that you do not always understand, I want to prove that it is absolutely possible if we only do it together.”
And just like that, Caitlyn Jenner made history… again.
Watch the video of the speech below.