The Olympic gold medallist and reality star formerly known as Bruce Jenner was presented with the Arthur Ashe Award for Courage at TV sports channel ESPN’s annual ESPYs ceremony honouring excellence in sport.
Cheered by her family, including daughters Kendall and Kylie Jenner and stepdaughters Kim, Kourtney and Khloe Kardashian, the decathlon champion implored viewers to help improve the lives of transgender people.
Jenner, 65, shared her new name and appearance on the cover of Vanity Fair in early June.
After receiving a standing ovation from the crowd in the Microsoft Theatre in Los Angeles, she said: “The last few months have been a whirlwind of so many different experiences and emotions but to tell you the truth, it seems that every time I turn around in life I am putting myself in these high pressure situations – competing in the Games, raising a family – but I’ve never felt more pressure than I have ever felt in my life than over the last couple of months, picking out this outfit.
“Ok girls, I get it, you have to get the shoes, the hair, the make-up, the whole process was exhausting.”
Dressed in a pale pink, floor-length gown, she said: “The real truth is that before a couple of months ago I had never met anybody else who was trans, who was like me. I had never met a trans person. I dealt with my situation on my own, in private, and that this turned this journey into an already incredible education, it’s been eye-opening, inspiring but also frightening.
“All across this country right now, all across the world at this moment, there are young people coming to terms with being transgender.
“They are learning that they are different and they are trying to figure out how to handle that on top of every other problem that a teenager has.
“They are getting bullied, they are getting beaten up, they are getting murdered and they are committing suicide. The numbers are staggering but they are the reality of what it is like to be trans today.”
She drew attention to the recent deaths of two young transgender people, one who had been murdered and one who had committed suicide, saying: “Every time something like this happens people wonder, could it have been different if spotlighting this issue with more attention could have changed the way things happened.
“We will never know but if there is one thing I do know about my life, it is the power of the spotlight.”
Addressing the room packed with American superstar athletes including Peyton Manning, LeBron James and Alex Rodriguez, she said: “As a group, as athletes, how you conduct your lives, what you say and what you do is absorbed and observed by millions of people, especially young people.
“I know I am clear with my responsibility going forward to tell my story the right way for me, to keep learning, to do whatever I can do to reshape the landscape of how trans issues are viewed, how trans people are treated and more broadly, to promote a very simple idea – accepting people for who they are.”
Addressing her past as an Olympic gold medallist, she said: “I trained hard. I competed hard. And for that people respected me, but this transition has been harder on me than anything I could have imagined and that is the case for so many others besides me.
“For that reason alone trans people deserve something vital, they deserve your respect. From that respect comes a more compassionate community, a more empathetic society and a better world for all of us.”
Wiping away tears, she added: “The biggest fear in coming out was 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 have given me so much support. I’m so, so grateful to have all of you in my life.”