Olympian Caitlyn Jenner was honored with the Arthur Ashe Courage Award at the ESPY Awards ceremony, hosted by Joel McHale, in Los Angeles last night. The award is given annually to an individual whose contributions “transcend sports”; this year’s award was presented to Jenner by Abby Wambach of the U.S. women’s national soccer team.
“Let’s talk about an issue not enough of us stand up for,” Wambach said. “At some point in their lives, 20 percent of transgender people are homeless. They get bullied, assaulted, and murdered at dramatically higher rates than the general public.” (These are the kind of serious issues in the trans* community that Laverne Cox argued people should be talking about on Katie Couric’s show last year, instead of a focus on bodies and body parts that objectifies transgender people.)
“Now though, there’s a new story,” Wambach continued. “A story of someone whose mission isn’t to bring attention to herself but the ones who truly need it.” The crowd at the awards ceremony all stood as Jenner was called to the stage.
Jenner made her public debut as Caitlyn in the Vanity Fair July issue; in her acceptance speech at the ESPYs, Jenner called the past few months a “whirlwind,” and thanked her mother, children, and ABC News’ Diane Sawyer, with whom she also shared a touching moment with on her way to the stage. Jenner spoke about how she had never met another transgender person until recently. Meeting other transgender people “turned this journey into an already incredible education,” Jenner said. (In her interview with Vanity Fair earlier this summer, she thanked the transgender women she referred to as pioneers, including Cox and Janet Mock.)
A lot of the responses to how Jenner looked and what she was wearing last night—one of the first details in the ABC News story about Jenner’s award is about what she wore, and even Wambach noted Jenner’s beauty when bringing the athlete to the stage—stir up some of the same sentiments in Cox’s response to Jenner’s Vanity Fair cover, which she posted on her personal Tumblr. In her response, Cox urged people to move beyond conversations about physical appearance and beauty, asking us to consider privilege and access when commenting on beauty standards.
As for Jenner, in her ESPYs speech, she said she understands the “power of the spotlight” and knows that “with attention, comes responsibility.” Jenner does appear committed to boosting trans* visibility and to speaking about her own experiences as a trans woman: Her eight-part reality show I Am Cait premieres July 26 on E! and will be available in 120 different countries starting in August. “Trans people deserve something vital,” Jenner said at the ESPYs. “They deserve your respect.”
Jenner’s family attended the event last night, and as usual with Caitlyn’s children, they took plenty of selfies to document the evening. Kendall, Kylie, Brody, Burt, Brandon, and Leah Jenner, along with Cassandra Marino, and Kourtney, Kim, and Khloe Kardashian were all in attendance to support Caitlyn. Kourtney posted a photo of the family together backstage, and Brody told ABC News that they would all be celebrating with a big family dinner.