Caitlyn Jenner accepted the Arthur Ashe Courage Award at the ESPY Awards on Wednesday, and the 65-year-old Olympian took the stage to deliver a powerful, emotionally-charged call for compassion and acceptance.
Jenner used her public platform to share an important message about the difficulties facing thousands of trans men and women across the world, and redirected the spotlight from herself to the plight of others struggling to find acceptance.
"All across the world at this very moment there are young people coming to terms with being transgender. They are 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," Jenner said. "They are getting bullied, they are getting beaten up. They're getting murdered and they are committing suicide."
Jenner went on to share the tragic stories of 17-year-old woman Mercedes Williamson, who was found murdered in Mississippi, and 15-year-old Sam Taub, who committed suicide. Jenner shared that the deaths haunted her, and that she found herself wondering if anything could have been changed if she had done what she could to shine a spotlight on trans issues earlier.
"With attention comes responsibility," Jenner told the audience of celebrities and sports stars. "As a group, as athletes, how you conduct your lives, what you say, what you do, is absorbed and observed by millions of people. Especially young people."
"I know I'm clear with my responsibility 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," Jenner added. "And then, more broadly, to promote a very simple idea. Accepting people for who they are. Accepting people's differences."
Jenner struggled with her own identity for years before transitioning, and she admitted to even contemplating suicide at one point in her journey. Jenner's struggles were documented in a poignant video package, narrated by Jon Hamm, that preceded Jenner's speech.
Since Jenner introduced herself to the world in Vanity Fair in June, she's received a lot of support from fans and the public. However, she has also been at the receiving end of a lot of hatred, vitriol and criticism.
Jenner, who looking striking in a white Atelier Versace gown, addressed her critics, and shared an important message with those who aren't ready to accept and respect trans people and issues.
"If you want to 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."
Jenner also took the opportunity to thank the people who meant the most in her life, and was brought to tears when she acknowledged the support she's received from her children and family, who were in the audience to support her.
Jenner thanked her mother, who joined her for the grand occasion just days after undergoing major surgery.
"I have always thought I got my courage and my determination from my dad, who landed on Omaha Beach and fought all the way through World War II," Jenner shared. "But you know what? I'm realizing now mom that I think I got all those qualities from you."
Jenner also shared a very heartwarming message of gratitude with him children, who sat together in the audience.
"I'd like to thank my family. The biggest fear of coming out if I never wanted to hurt anyone else. Most of all my family and my kids," Jenner said, fighting back tears. "I always wanted my kids to be proud of their dad for what he was able to accomplish in his life. You guys have given so much back to me, you give me so much support. I am so, so grateful to have all of you in my life. Thank you."
Most of Jenner's family turned out for her big night, and the group even snapped a pic backstage commemorating the occasion.
You can watch Jenner's emotional address in its entirety here: