Last night, Olympic champion Caitlyn Jenner, formerly Bruce Jenner, stood up before the world in a classic long, white gown and a full face of make-up, completely transformed into the image of the woman she has always wanted to be. Jenner attended the ESPY Awards as a trans-woman for the first time and accepted the Arthur Ashe Courage Award.
Many viewers were moved and inspired by Jenner’s message, which is not unusual for a speech from the award’s recipients, but this year, something was different. There are aspects of Jenner’s address that will not only solidify her as one of the most memorable recipients of the award, but it will go down as one of the most ground-breaking and unforgettable speeches for years to come.
Here are five reasons why Caitlyn Jenner’s ESPYs speech is one of the most important in recent years.
She was beyond courageous.
It’s not called the “Courage” award for nothing. The athletes who are honored with the Arthur Ashe award incorporate courage into their daily lives, and Jenner is no exception. Transitioning from “Bruce,” the all-American macho athlete on a box of Wheaties, to “Caitlyn” was essentially risking it all. There was the possibility that her family and the world would have rejected her.
While Jenner was fortunate enough to still have her family by her side no matter what, putting everything on the line to be who she feels she is on the inside is no easy feat and requires a boldness that is not at all common.
She opened the door for transgender issues to be more widely discussed.
Jenner brought the seriousness of transgender issues to the forefront on a world stage, which seldom occurs. “They’re getting bullied, they’re getting beaten up, they’re getting murdered and they’re committing suicide,” she said.
She also brought attention to two tragedies that may have remained little-known if not for last night’s speech.
“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,” she told the audience.
She inspired a new generation to be themselves.
The central message of Jenner’s address is what she called a “very simple idea”: “accepting people for who they are” and “accepting people’s differences.” Anyone with unique qualities can understand the challenge of being yourself amid hate or scrutiny, and Jenner admittedly used her major platform to let it be know, especially to the youth, that anyone who is different should be accepted and loved for who they are.
She showed how important it is to be the person you want to be, no matter what anyone says. To those who may call her names or make jokes about her, she said, “I can take it.”
Her appearance alone will make transgenders more mainstream.
With the popularity of trans-women such as Laverne Cox, Janet Mock, and Jazz Jennings, the public is getting more familiar with transgender people. Jenner’s acceptance speech will only make people more comfortable with the idea of seeing transgenders in public and on television.
Jenner admitted herself that she had never seen a trans person in real life until she embarked on the journey of making her transition. But now, very soon, encountering someone with a trans background probably won’t be so uncommon.
She emphasized the importance of family.
Jenner’s family, including her children and mother, displayed the importance of supporting a loved one as they showed up to the ESPYs and beamed with pride from the audience. Jenner said that she can handle the jokes and scrutiny that others may hurl her way, but it is likely that her strength comes from having a solid support system in her family.
This show of support will hopefully send a message to others that their loved ones need to be loved and accepted no matter how different they are, and family should be the first place that someone who is different should be able to go to feel okay being themselves. Having such a support system could not only make them stronger against the adversity they experience from the outside world, but it could literally save them from committing suicide or engaging in other self-harming activities.