Emotional Health · Fitness · Sex & Sexuality

Caitlyn Jenner’s ESPY Speech Provides a Lesson in Acceptance

Bruce-Jenner-Call-Me-Caitlyn-0604Before the Arthur Ashe Courage Award was presented to Caitlyn Jenner at the ESPY Awards on Wednesday night, the choice of Jenner as the recipient was questioned and even ridiculed. For some of us, who grew up with Uncle Miltie wearing dresses for laughs or watching the Cpl. Klinger character on M*A*S*H trying to get a discharge from the military by dressing as a woman, the transgender segment of the LGBT community may be the most difficult to understand.

But the acceptance speech by Caitlyn Jenner, the transgender woman who most of us first came to know as Olympic decathlon champion Bruce Jenner, will be remembered for what she taught us about being different.

Just as Arthur Ashe, the only black player to win the men’s singles title at Wimbledon, the U.S. Open and the Australian Open, broke barriers in tennis and later changed the image of people with AIDS, Jenner’s speech will change the attitudes of many people like me.

On Wednesday night, she talked about young people who feel different, know they are different and have no place to turn. This feeling of isolation is something I could never imagine, yet people who grapple with it are often closer to us than we realize.

My house is within walking distance of the George Washington Bridge, where a young man jumped to his death after his college roommate used a webcam to record him kissing a man in his dorm room.

I often think back to when I was in high school and I would sometimes walk past that same bridge on my way home with a male classmate whom I thought was different. It’s not that I thought he was gay. I didn’t know about gay then and homosexuality wasn’t called “gay” then.

Now I wonder what became of him. Is he happy? Did life treat him OK?

I also remember a time when I was downtown in New York City with my then-5-year-old son and we heard there was going to be a parade. “Parade? What parade?” this young mother asked, determined that her child not miss a parade.

“The Gay Parade,” a policeman said.

I grabbed my son’s hand and hurried away. I was unprepared.

Since then my attitude and the attitudes of many people in our country have changed drastically. That was clearly demonstrated when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that gay people have the right to marry.

I hope that Caitlyn Jenner becomes a kind of divining rod in our culture, our world. As she said: “Trans people deserve something vital. They deserve your respect. And from that respect comes a more compassionate community, a more empathetic society and a better world for all of us.”

In the same way I appreciated Arthur Ashe for his courage and candor in facing AIDS, I am grateful to Caitlyn Jenner for teaching me by sharing her most private self.

Thank you, Caitlyn. You are truly a champion.

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  • Leslie in Oregon July 18, 2015 at 7:50 pm

    A society that is not only more accepting, but more open and affirming (to use the phrase adopted decades ago by the United Church of Christ), will be a better place for all of us. Thank you for the enormous positive impact you are having in our movement toward that goal, Caitlyn Jenner.

  • Roz Warren July 18, 2015 at 10:31 am

    This is just the kind of well-written, insightful post I rely on Womens Voices for.

  • Molly Mullen July 17, 2015 at 4:39 pm

    I love what she said about a more accepting society making a better world for everyone!