Woman of the hour! Caitlyn Jenner accepted the Arthur Ashe Courage Award at the 2015 ESPYS held at the Microsoft Theater in L.A. on Wednesday, July 15, where she had her very own cheering section filled with members of the Kardashian and Jenner families.
Caitlyn was introduced by two-time Olympic gold medalist soccer player Abby Wambach, who cited startling statistics about the transgender community. “I never saw Bruce Jenner compete in the Olympic Games, I got to know the name being a sports fan,” Wambach shared, as an introductory video featuring Caitlyn inside her Malibu home followed on the screen.
“When you go through your life with secrets, constantly, it all wears on you,” Caitlyn, 65, reflected in the clip. “I always felt like I was hiding myself…the only way I could get through life were by distractions. I didn’t want to deal with myself… I would feel like a liar all the time. It’s too bad because I wasted a lot of my life and nobody really knew who I am, and that’s sad.”
— ESPYS (@ESPYS) July 16, 2015
Caitlyn shared that she came to terms with her identity. “I can see how people are driven to that,” she said of suicide, “because you don’t want to deal with life anymore. I came to a revelation: Out of all the things that I’ve done in my life, maybe this is my calling. To take my struggle and throw it out in front of the world, maybe I can bring understanding on this subject. It’s time I try to do my best.”
After the clip ended, Caitlyn — dressed in a gorgeous, form-fitting white gown by Versace — was greeted by a standing ovation. “Wow, I have to talk after that? Thank you so much. It is so wonderful to be here tonight,” she told her fellow athletes. “It seems like every time we turn around in life, I’m putting myself in high-pressure situations. But I’ve never felt more pressure in my life than I have over the last couple of months. Picking out this outfit… but next, the Fashion Police. Please be kind on me, I’m new at this!”
Caitlyn revealed that prior to a few months ago, she had never met a trans person before in her life. “[It’s] turning this journey into an incredible education,” she shared. “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, there comes responsibility. How you conduct your lives, what you say, what you do, is absorbed by millions of people. Especially the right people… To tell my story the right way.”
She then called attention to the brutal treatment of the trans community, saying her mission was simple now: “Accepting people for who they are.”
“I know the people in this room have respect for hard work. For training,” she continued. “I trained hard, I competed hard, and for that, people respected me. This transition has been harder on me than anything I could’ve ever imagined… Trans people deserve something vital. They deserve your respect. And from that respect comes a more compassionate community, and a better world for all of us.”
With her family in the audience, Caitlyn called attention to them in a rather emotional moment. “I never wanted to hurt anyone else most of all,” she said, getting emotional. “My family and my kids: I always wanted my children to be proud of their dad. You guys have given so much back to me…”
Wiping away tears, Caitlyn added: “I’m so grateful to have all of you in my life, thank you.”
As Us Weekly revealed prior to the moment, the I Am Cait star was accompanied to the show on Wednesday by her three stepdaughters: newly single Kourtney Kardashian, pregnant Kim, and Khloe. Jenner’s biological kids, Kendall, Kylie, Brody, Brandon, Burt, and Casey Jenner also joined her at the star-studded athletic awards show.
Rounding out Caitlyn’s crew on Wednesday was her mom, Esther Jenner, who said this past February that she was “more proud of [her] now,” than when she won the 1976 Olympic gold decathlon medal.
“I never thought I could be more proud of Bruce when he reached his goal in 1976,” Esther told the Associated Press. “But I’m more proud of him now. It takes a lot of courage to do what he’s doing.” Esther echoed these sentiments yet again on Wednesday night in Caitlyn’s introductory video.
Jenner’s courage was also lauded on Wednesday by friends, including fellow trans woman Candis Cayne, who accompanied her to the prestigious awards show. One source told Us that the former Olympian’s guest count for the evening was more than 60.
The final moments of Caitlyn’s speech on Wednesday were most poignant. “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,'” she concluded. “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.”
She then called attention to those without her voice. “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,” Caitlyn told the crowd. “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 always] understand, I want to prove that it is absolutely possible if we only do it together.”
Her moment has been more than six weeks in the making. Following her debut as a transgender woman on the July 2015 cover of Vanity Fair, Caitlyn told fans that she was looking forward to the big event. “What the hell am I going to wear?” she tweeted about the news.
An insider told Us that the E! star was eagerly anticipating the awards show for quite some time. “Caitlyn’s excited to be a part of the ESPYS and to be getting the award,” the source said. “She’s very proud and confident and seemed very obviously comfortable in her own skin.”
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