Gina Mei
Updated July 16, 2015

On Wednesday night, Caitlyn Jenner accepted the prestigious Arthur Ashe Courage Award at the ESPY Awards in Los Angeles. The honor recognizes athletes who transcend athletics by “possessing strength in the face of adversity, courage in the face of peril, and the willingness to stand up for their beliefs no matter what the cost.” We can think of few people as worthy as Jenner — and her incredible acceptance speech further proved why.

In her speech, the activist, Olympian, and TV star spoke of her intentions to use the recent attention she’s received to help foster acceptance of transgender people everywhere, and encouraged others to do the same.

“All across the world, at this very moment, there are young people coming to terms with being transgender,” Jenner said. “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.”

Young transgender people are still being bullied and abused for who they are, and Jenner spoke at length about just how important it is that we move to change this. According to the National Center for Transgender Equality, 84% of trans youth report feeling unsafe at school. The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and the Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law estimates that 41% of transgender and gender-nonconforming youth have attempted suicide in their lives. A report by the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs (NCAVP) reports that more than 72% of anti-LGBTQ+ homicide victims in 2013 were transgender women; and an alarming majority of them were trans women of color. Trans visibility and acceptance have definitely been on the rise thanks to Jenner and others, but we still have a long way to go — and Jenner knows the attention she’s received has the power to do a great amount of good.

“If there’s one thing I know about my life, it’s the power of spotlight,” Jenner said. “Sometimes, it gets overwhelming. But with attention, comes responsibility.”

“I’m clear with my responsibility in going forward: To tell my story the right way, for me; to keep learning; to do whatever I can to reshape the landscape of how trans issues are viewed, how trans people are treated; and then more broadly, to promote a very simple idea — accepting people for who they are,” she continued.

In the past few months, Jenner has gotten to tell her story on her own terms: From her interview special with Diane Sawyer, to her cover story for Vanity Fair magazine. Her reality docu-series, I Am Cait, premieres later this month so she can continue to tell her story; and just a couple weeks ago, she launched a blog series called “The Real Me,” so other trans individuals could do the same.

“I trained hard, I competed hard, and for that people respected me,” she said in her speech. “But this transition has been harder on me than anything I could imagine, and that’s the case for so many others, besides me. For that reason alone, trans people deserve something vital: They deserve your respect.”

“If you want to call me names, make jokes, doubt my intentions — go ahead, because the reality is, I can take it,” she continued. “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.”

We couldn’t agree more, and we couldn’t find her message to be more essential. You can watch the speech in its entirety right here, and a clip of it below.

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