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by Bruna Nessif | Wed., Jul. 15, 2015 8:03 PM
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It was a big night for Caitlyn Jenner.
The E! star, who stunned in a breathtaking white wrap dress, was one of the highlights of tonight's 2015 ESPY Awards, as she was honored with the prestigous Arthur Ashe Courage Award.
Presented by U.S. women's soccer player Abby Wambach, who first introduced a touching montage of Caitlyn's journey, Jenner walked onto the stage and was greeted with a standing ovation from the crowd as the entire Kardashian and Jenner brood supported in the audience.
"Wow, I have to talk after that? Thank you so much. It is so wonderful to be here tonight. The last few months have been a whirlwind of so many different experiences and emotions. But to tell you the truth, it seems like every time I turn around in life, I'm putting myself in these high-pressure situations—competing in the games, raising a family, but I've never felt more pressure than I have in my life than I have in the last couple of months. Picking out this outfit—OK girls, I get it," she said, which drew laughter from the crowd.
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"It was exhausting. And next, the Fashion Police. Please be kind on me, I'm new at this."
Caitlyn revealed she had never met another transgender person before the last few months, and expressed the importance in accepting and respecting everyone for who they are. "My plea to you tonight is to join me in making this one of your issues as well...Learn as much as you can about another person."
She continued, "I trained hard. I competed hard. And for this, people respected me. But this transition was harder on me than anything I could have imagined. And that's the case for so many others besides me. For that reason alone, trans people deserve something vital. They deserve your respect."
The 65-year-old thanked fellow transgender people in the industry and in the spotlight, like Laverne Cox and Chaz Bono, as well as friend Diane Sawyer, who conducted the famous one-on-one interview with Jenner a few months ago.
"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," an emotional Jenner said.
"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 added.
"It is an honor to have the word ‘courage' associated with my life, but on this night, another word comes to mind, and that is ‘fortunate.' I owe a lot to sports. It showed me the world. It's given me an identity.
"If you wanna call me names, make jokes, doubt my intentions, go ahead. 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 its 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."
When the Arthur Ashe announcement was made last month, Caitlyn said in a statement, "In the past few months, the overwhelming outpouring of support from all over the world for my journey has been incredible. However, being honored with this award, which is named after one of my heroes, is truly special. For the first time this July, I will be able to stand as my true self in front of my peers."
ESPN's decision caught some backlash, however the network firmly stood by their choice. "I think Caitlyn's decision to publicly come out as a transgender woman and live as Caitlyn Jenner displayed enormous courage and self-acceptance," producer Maura Mandt told Sports Illustrated this week.
"Bruce Jenner could have easily gone off into the sunset as this American hero and never have dealt with this publicly. Doing so took enormous courage."
James White for E!
"He was one of the greatest athletes of our time," Mandt continued. "That is what the Arthur Ashe Courage Award is about, somebody from the athletic community who has done something that transcends sport. One of the biggest platforms the Arthur Ashe Foundation has is educational, and I think in this choice we have the opportunity to educate people about this issue and hopefully change and possibly save some lives. I think that is why it was the right choice."
Past recipients of the honor include Michael Sam, the NFL league's first openly gay player, Good Morning America's Robin Roberts and former women's college basketball coach Pat Summitt.
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