As her family looked on proudly, Caitlyn Jenner took the stage at ESPN’s ESPY Awards Wednesday night in Los Angeles to accept the Arthur Ashe Courage Award.
In response to the tribute video that played shortly before, Jenner joked, “I have to speak after that?,” before launching into an emotional speech about her journey from Olympic athlete to transgender activist and Vanity Fair cover girl, one that touched on both the deeply personal and broader cultural shifts that have led Jenner to captivate so many.
“It seems like every time I turn around in life,” Jenner said, “I’m putting myself in these high-pressure situations: competing in the games, raising a family. But I have never felt more pressure than I have in my life than over the last couple of months.”
She paused from her more serious tone.
“Picking out this outfit, O.K., girls, I get it,“ she said. ”You gotta get the shoes, the hair, the makeup, the whole process. It was exhausting. And next? The fashion police. Please be kind to me, I’m new at this.” (Jenner need not have worried, her elegant white wrap dress was already a hit with the people over at E!.)
After giving a quick shout out to the U.S. women’s soccer team’s recent World Cup victory—player Abby Wambach had just presented her with the Ashe award—Jenner went on to address issues affecting the global transgender community.
“They’re getting bullied, they’re getting beaten up, they’re getting murdered,” Jenner said, before relating specific examples of the hardships facing her community.
Then things got very personal. Addressing the assembled Jenner-Kardashian clan in the audience, she said, “Here comes the tough part; I’d like to thank my family. 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. You guys have given so much back to me, you’ve given me so much support. I am so, so grateful to have all of you in my life. Thank you. And last but not least, my mother…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. But you know, I’m realizing now, Mom, I think I got all of those qualities from you.
Jenner concluded by addressing the transgender community, her allies, and those who questioned the giving of the Ashe award to her.
“If you wanna call me names, make jokes, doubt my intentions, go ahead,“ she said. ”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, 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. It’s not a bad thing. It’s a good thing.”
BY JOANNA ROBINSON for Vanity Fair.com