Ever since ESPN confirmed this week that it had decided to honor Caitlyn Jenner with the Arthur Ashe Courage Award at the ESPYs on July 15, people have questioned what she has done to deserve it.
In the comments beneath my own story about the award, this sort of sentiment was more than clear. Here are just a few representative samples of what was said:
“Bruce jenner got exactly what he wanted. More publicity than the other women in his family.”
“Good for Bruce but I don't see this as Arthur Ashe awards worthy. Bruce is doing this for him/herself. I don't feel it it for others which was my feeling of an award worthy of being called Arthur Ashe award”
“In 15 years or whatever, and she does amazing things to support the acceptance of transgender issue then maybe.”
“So comparing Caitlyn Jenner, to previous award recipients such as Muhammad Ali, who proved so much more courage really cheapens this award.”
“Bruce is obviously going through some serious mental health issues.. To give him this award is a slap in the face to everyone else that has recieved it. Takes no courage to do what he did especially with the millions he'll be making [sic].”
“Sorry, not deserving of the award.”
The sentiment was not limited to one Internet story either. Petitions have been started asking ESPN to revoke the award, deeming it an “insult” to army veterans. On Twitter, the hashtag #BoycottESPN quickly garnered traction as people angrily declared that Jenner could not be most deserving of the award.
Some of the tweets supported other candidates, like basketball player Lauren Hill, who tragically passed away at 19 earlier this year after a long battle with cancer. Others were much uglier.
— Attorneymom (@PinkCottonMom) June 3, 2015
One tweet, by Gerry Callahan, received nearly 10,000 retweets and 7,000 favorites and actually led many people to believe that Iraq war veteran Noah Galloway (pictured in the below photo) did, in fact, come in second in the voting.
Memes were created to display people’s disgust with picking Jenner over Galloway, and the online campaign became prevalent enough that ESPN was forced to clarify in a follow-up statement that there is no such thing as second place in the Arthur Ashe Award, and that ESPN understands there are “many worthy candidates” every year:
The Arthur Ashe Courage Award is meant to honor individuals whose contributions transcend sports through courageous action. Sometimes that courage is demonstrated over the course of a lifetime and sometimes it is demonstrated in a single act that shines a light on an important contemporary issue. At all times, there are many worthy candidates. This year, we are proud to honor Caitlyn Jenner embracing her identity and doing so in a public way to help move forward a constructive dialogue about progress and acceptance.
I could go on rounding up all the things that have been said about Jenner and her Arthur Ashe Courage Award. I could round up additional images and additional sentiments of disgust. But I won’t do that because the point is already clear enough: The backlash against Caitlyn Jenner winning the Arthur Ashe Courage Award is all the proof you need that she deserves it.
People who are transgender -- yes, including Caitlyn -- open themselves up to horrifying levels of hate and discrimination just for the chance to be themselves. The rate of violence against transgender people remains truly staggering in the U.S., as is the lack of understanding within the larger American community about what transgender people go through every day of their lives.
In 2015, the decision to open yourself up to hate for an opportunity to feel comfortable in your own skin is one of the bravest things you can do. If you don’t believe me, take in these words from my colleagues at HuffPost:
The rate of violence against transgender women, especially transgender women of color, is alarming -- according to a 2013 report by the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs, an organization working to reduce violence against LGBTQ people, 72 percent of victims of anti-LGBTQ homicide were transgender women, and 89 percent of victims were people of color. According to the same report, transgender people were also more likely to experience violence at the hands of law enforcement.
Trans people in general experience higher rates of HIV, higher smoking rates and more suicide attempts than the general population, according to a 2011 report by the National Center for Transgender Equality. They also face more discrimination and harassment when seeking health care. One-fifth of people who identify as transgender have reported being homeless at some point in their lives.
Of course, this is not to say other people, specifically Lauren Hill and Noah Galloway, are undeserving of an award for their own bravery. Of course they are. But prejudice in this country against the transgender community is undeniable. The vast majority of us cannot and should not pretend to understand how terrifying it must be to come to terms with the fact that what you see in the mirror does not match what you feel in your heart. And we shouldn't act like we do either.
On its website, ESPN.com defines winners of the Arthur Ashe Award as those “possessing strength in the face of adversity, courage in the face of peril and the willingness to stand up for their beliefs no matter what the cost.” Anyone who has looked around the Internet this week (or in the tabloids in the months before Caitlyn decided to announce her transition) has seen in plain view just how much ugliness still exists on the other side for anyone, including Caitlyn, who decides to make the leap. Are there transgender people in the U.S. going through more hardship than Caitlyn? Almost certainly, but it’s also possible someone will see Caitlyn take the stage on July 15 and think, “Maybe, one day, I’ll decide to tell the world who I am too.” That's worth something, isn't it?
To come out as transgender in America, even in 2015, is an act of bravery worthy of an award. If you’re going to get mad about something, get mad that we can’t give it to every human who, like Caitlyn, took the risk to be his or her self.