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Caitlyn Jenner received an award for courage at the ESPYs Wednesday, but she revealed that it’s her mother, Esther, who deserves the kudos, for teaching the world about the true meaning of acceptance. (Photo: Getty Images)
In one of the more moving moments of Wednesday’s ESPY (Excellence in Sports Performance Yearly) Awards, Caitlyn Jenner’s mother, Esther, shared her thoughts about her daughter’s transgender journey. “I never thought I could be more proud,” the 88-year-old declared, recalling her daughter’s gold medal victory through a teary video testimonial that aired before Caitlyn took the stage to accept the Arthur Ashe Award for Courage. “I was wrong … I am even more proud now.”
Like everyone, though, Esther was in the dark about her child’s true feelings for the majority of her life. As Caitlyn, 65, reminded everyone in the footage, she kept her true self hidden until just recently. “I was good at living my life for other people,” Caitlyn says. “At what point in my life am I going to get sick of all the distraction and have to turn around and actually deal with me as a person and who I am? That was a long, long, long, long road."
And Esther admitted that when Caitlyn first spoke with her about transitioning, she felt guilty. “He couldn’t open up to us because he couldn’t tell us his deepest feelings, and I had no idea,” her mother said in the video between sobs. “Of all people, your mother should have a good insight to that.” Her support, though, never wavered. “Believe me, I am not losing anything,” Esther said of Caitlyn’s transition. “I am gaining a better relationship with my child.”
Indeed, it was Esther who Caitlyn called out in her emotional speech onstage (around the 9 minute mark). “I always thought that I got my courage and my determination from my dad, who landed on Omaha Beach and fought all the way through World War II. But you know what I’m realizing now, Mom? I think I got all those qualities from you. I love you very much. I’m so glad you’re here to share this with me,” she said to Esther in the audience.
Photo: Getty Images/YouTube
"Esther Jenner’s display of support at the awards provides a wonderful example for other parents,” Jenny Betz, director of education and youth programs at the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network, tells Yahoo Parenting.
And for individuals who are transitioning, getting support from moms and dads isn’t just nice, it’s necessary. According to the 2011 National Transgender Discrimination Survey, 57 percent of 6,500 respondents experienced significant family rejection. And as Yahoo Parenting has previously reported, that can take an enormous toll. Research from the Family Acceptance Project at San Francisco State University shows that highly rejected teens were more than eight times as likely to have attempted suicide, nearly six times as likely to report high levels of depression, more than three times as likely to use illegal drugs, and more than three times as likely to be at high risk for HIV and sexually transmitted diseases.
That’s why Betz urges all parents to support their child publicly, like Esther has, and also to be an advocate for change, especially in schools.
“That’s where transgender students still overwhelmingly report hearing negative comments and feeling unsafe, according to GLSEN’s 2013 National School Climate Survey,” she says. “Parents can be the ones to ensure that their local schools have an LGBT-inclusive curriculum, supportive educators, clubs like Gay Straight Alliances, and antibullying policies that specifically protect transgender students, all of which are crucial to providing a safe and affirming school environment for all students.”
Photo: Getty Images
But even simply listening and accepting a child in transition, as Esther has done so beautifully, can make a world of difference.
“There isn’t anything more important, and the research shows this, than family acceptance of a transgender person,” Vincent Villano, communications director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, tells Yahoo Parenting. “Often, the most important thing a mother can do to support their child’s transition is to listen and be patient — the truth of their child’s identity will come out. But as parents, we must listen and respect that.” Because after all, as Caitlyn declared onstage, “It’s not just about me, it’s about all of us accepting one another.”