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Caitlyn Jenner receives ESPY Arthur Ashe award for courage

"Trans people deserve something vital. They deserve your respect," Jenner said.
Honoree Caitlyn Jenner accepts the Arthur Ashe Courage Award onstage during The 2015 ESPYS at Microsoft Theater on July 15, 2015 in Los Angeles, Calif. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty)
Honoree Caitlyn Jenner accepts the Arthur Ashe Courage Award onstage during The 2015 ESPYS at Microsoft Theater on July 15, 2015 in Los Angeles, Calif.

Caitlyn Jenner stood on a stage before some of the country's biggest sports stars and celebrities Wednesday and issued a challenge to accept transgender people for who they are.

"Trans people deserve something vital. They deserve your respect," Jenner said at the ESPY Awards in Los Angeles Wednesday as she accepted the the Arthur Ashe Courage Award.

One of the most celebrated Olympians of all time, the former Bruce Jenner told the athletes in the crowd that how they behave on transgender issues matters for thousands of young people who are transgender and struggling. She urged the athletes to promote acceptance.

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

She mentioned trans teenagers Mercedes Williamson, who was murdered in Alabama, and Sam Taub, who took his own life in Michigan.

"They're getting bullied," Jenner said of trans youth. "They're getting beaten up. They're getting murdered. And they're committing suicide."

The moving speech was her most high profile appearance since announcing her physical transition to a woman last month.

Jenner teared up and her voice trembled and broke as she thanked members of her famous family, who were in attendance, including stepdaughters Khloe and Kim Kardashian.

"You guys have given so much back to me, you've given me so much support," she said. "I am so, so grateful to have all of you in my life."

But she noted that many young people may not have that support. She urged the athletes at the sports award show to use their celebrity to make society more tolerant.

Abby Wambach, a forward on the U.S. soccer team that won the Women's World Cup, presented the trophy to Jenner.

In announcing Jenner would receive the Arthur Ashe Award, the network said she had shown "the courage to embrace a truth that had been hidden for years."

Before Jenner's speech, the show played a video recounting her life, and internal struggle. "I've always known that I was different than everybody else," Jenner said in the piece. "I could play the male gender role, but I always felt female and that really scared me."

Jenner introduced her new name and look in an interview with Vanity Fair that appeared in July. An excerpt of the interview and the magazine cover, shot by Annie Leibovitz, were released June 1.

The caption — which read "Call Me Caitlyn" — introduced the world to the person Jenner had previously only referred to as "her" in a deeply personal interview in April with ABC News' Diane Sawyer.

Jenner broke a world record at the 1976 Montreal Summer Olympics to win a gold medal in the decathlon. Jenner's victory earned her the unofficial title of greatest athlete alive.

In the beginning of her speech Wednesday, Jenner said she'd never felt more pressure in her life than over the last few weeks — then joked it involved picking out her outfit for the star-studded event. "OK girls, I get it!" she joked. "And next, the fashion police. Please be kind on me, I'm new at this."

Turning more serious, Jenner emphasized that her message was about more than just one person. "It's about what happens from here," she said.

"It's not just about me, it's about all of us accepting one another," Jenner said. "And while it may not always be easy to get past the things you always don't understand, I want to prove that it is absolutely possible — if we only do it together," she said.

An ESPY award was also presented posthumously to Lauren Hill, the college basketball player whose positive attitude in the face of an inoperable brain tumor became an inspiration.

The NCAA moved a schedule up two weeks so Hill could fulfill her dream to play in a game with her school, Mount St. Joseph. Basketball superstar LeBron James called Hill and inspiration. She helped raise more than $1 million for cancer research.

Hill, 19, died on April 10. Her parents, Brent and Lisa Hill, accepted the award on their late daughter's behalf.

"All we have is now, and I urge you to spend every moment making it as memorable as you can," Lisa Hill said. "Nothing would be a better tribute to Lauren."

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