LOS ANGELES • Olympic champion Caitlyn Jenner issued an eloquent and impassioned plea for transgender acceptance on Wednesday in her first public appearance since coming out as a transgender woman, defying a blizzard of derision on social media.
Formerly Bruce Jenner, the US decathlon champion in Montreal in 1976 seized the moment for transgender advocacy as she collected the Arthur Ashe Courage Award at the nationally televised ESPY sports awards gala in Los Angeles.
"If you want to call me names, make jokes, doubt my intentions, go ahead - because the reality is, I can take it," said Jenner, 65, dominating the stage in an elegant form-fitting white gown and with wavy, shoulder-length hair.
"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," she said, to robust applause from a theatre full of top US college and pro athletes, including the World Cup-winning US women's football squad.
It was Jenner's first major public appearance since coming out as a transgender woman in a televised interview in April where she discussed how she had been grappling with the issue of her gender identity since childhood.
Named for the US tennis star who died of Aids in 1993, the Arthur Ashe award has in past years gone to athletes like Billie Jean King and Muhammad Ali and non-athletes, including Nelson Mandela.
But throughout the three-hour prime-time ESPY broadcast, hundreds of posts appeared on Twitter demanding to know why the Olympian-turned-reality TV star on Keeping Up With The Kardashians was being honoured for courage, almost four decades after a gold-medal triumph.
Many thought Lauren Hill, who fulfilled her dream of playing college basketball in Ohio despite a brain tumour that took her life in April at the age of 19, was more deserving. She instead was recognised with a "best moment" award, presented to her parents, for a game in which she scored the first and last baskets.
Jenner said her own life would be dedicated to doing whatever she could "to reshape the landscape of how trans people are viewed and treated ... (and) to promote a very simple idea - accepting people for who they are".