Earlier this month Caitlyn Jenner, formerly Bruce Jenner, introduced herself to the world through an interview and cover shoot for Vanity Fair magazine. She was tremendously well received with many media outlets praising her for her bravery. Jenner even broke a record on Twitter, becoming the fastest person ever to reach one million followers (it took her about four hours).
Shortly after Caitlyn made her first appearance, ESPN announced it would be giving her the “Arthur Ashe Courage Award” at the upcoming ESPY awards. The decision immediately triggered a widespread and, at times, extraordinarily disrespectful firestorm in mainstream and social media. To be sure, there were many people who had thoughtful arguments for why ESPN should have chosen a different recipient. Lauren Hill (a college basketball player who lost her fight with cancer), Leah Still (the daughter of professional football player Devon Still who is currently battling cancer of her own) and Noah Galloway (a veteran who lost two limbs in combat and is now a triathlete, motivational speaker and former competitor on Dancing with the Stars) were popular names that were discussed widely.
The problem came, however, when people changed the conversation from “why someone else is more deserving of a particular award” to “why Caitlyn Jenner is NOT deserving of the award at all.” Saying all Caitlyn did was “just” come out to the world as a transgender woman completely misses the mark. Her decision to make her true voice heard gives valuable representation to a community that for too long has been quiet and in the shadows. Questioning how well Caitlyn’s accomplishments apply to the Arthur Ashe Award is fine, attacking and belittling her in the process is not.
This is a lesson we can all learn as we continue to debate various ideas and move our country forward. The foundation of all these valuable conversations is respect. We must be civil towards one another. Without it, there can be no progress.