Last night, Caitlyn Jenner's acceptance speech for the Arthur Ashe Courage Award at the ESPYs was sandwiched between two standing ovations. And for good reason. Over the course of ten minutes, the former Olympian graciously deflected attention away from herself and turned it toward two transgender teenagers: Mercedes Williamson, who was murdered in June, and Sam Taub, who killed himself in April. The speech cemented Jenner's place as a much-needed role model for LGBT youth and as a liaison between the trans community and Middle America.
The award is named after a pioneering black tennis player who worked to educate the world about HIV after contracting it during a blood transfusion. He died in 1993, and starting that year, the eponymous honor has been given to legendary athletes like Muhammad Ali, as well as civil rights figures like Nelson Mandela. Oftentimes its given to athletes who help draw attention to civil rights issues, like Billie Jean King, Michael Sam (last year's honoree), and now Jenner.
In the speech, Jenner described her whole coming-out process as a very lonely one lacking in role models. "Well the real truth is that just before a few months ago, I had never met anybody else who was trans—who was like me," she said. "I had never met a trans person, never."
She went on:
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's showed me the world. It's 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 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 coming to terms with being true to who they are, they shouldn't have to take it.
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