Tanguay: I'm a fan of Caitlyn Jenner and her important message

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When I first saw photographs of Caitlyn Jenner at a trendy New York City party, I felt uncomfortable. And I felt guilty.

Why did I feel this way? I've always been a socially opened-minded person.

I looked for an answer for days and eventually came to the conclusion that it was not a man transgendering to a woman that made me uncomfortable, but the fact that it was a boyhood hero who now looked much different to me. If Bruce Jenner had shaved his head or grown a Fu Manchu, I would have felt the same discomfort because he didn't look like the same 1976 Olympic gold medalist I had watched as a kid.

But looking different, or being different in any regard, wasn't a legitimate excuse for my discomfort.

So when I sat down to watch Caitlyn Jenner’s acceptance of the Arthur Ashe Courage Award on Wednesday night, I was nervous. Nervous that I would be uncomfortable again.

By the time she left the stage, I wasn't nervous anymore. In fact, I was a fan. I rooted for Bruce Jenner then, and I'm rooting just as hard for Caitlyn Jenner now.

There has been much debate over Jenner receiving this award as opposed to Boston College alum Pete Frates, whose Ice Bucket Challenge raised millions for the battle against ALS. Both Jenner and Frates are worthy of the award. But after watching her speech, I felt Jenner’s cause needed the spotlight more.

There is a report the Jenner camp made a deal with ABC/ESPN that Caitlyn would give Diane Sawyer her first interview in exchange for the Ashe Award. ABC has denied the allegations. I hope there's no truth to the rumor. But if it's true, I want to believe the deal was made in the hope of spreading a much-needed message.

When introducing Jenner, award presenter and Gold Cup winner Amy Wambach said 20 percent of transgender people are homeless. They are bullied, assaulted and murdered at a higher rate than the general public. And Wambach said 41 percent of transgender people attempt suicide.

My heart broke when I heard that. I thought of a young gay man in my town who took his own life while his mother tried to console him. I understand; transgender and gay aren't the same. But the internal torment and the external abuse is. And, I thought, how, as a society, can we stand by and watch people die -- either by their own hands or at the hands of others -- because they're different?

Jenner said she was haunted by the suicide Sam Taub, a 15-year-old transgender male who took his own life days before the Sawyer interview. If Sam had watched and heard what Caitlyn Jenner said to Diane Sawyer, would he still be alive? No one knows . . . but I have to believe Jenner’s words would have made an impact on the young man. Maybe he would have chosen another way to deal with his pain.

So I'm a member of the Caitlyn Jenner fan club and am rooting for her cause. She's out to save the lives of people who have felt her pain and despair. How can any of us feel uncomfortable about that?

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