DOWNTOWN — As Caitlyn Jenner delivered her first keynote address for an LGBT organization to a packed house on Thursday, a handful of transgender women picketed the event, saying the celebrity is "appropriating" an identity that isn't hers.
Jenner, a former Olympian and member of the Kardashian clan, was in town as the keynote speaker for a luncheon benefiting Chicago House, a Lincoln Park social service agency that's been aiding and housing LGBT and HIV-positive people for 30 years. Jenner formally announced her transition in April.
"[Bringing awareness to transgender issues] is bigger than anything. Olympics? It's a game. This is about life," Jenner said. "What I have learned about this community is what a wonderful community it is."
Despite the large crowd inside the Grand Ballroom at the Hilton Chicago, 720 S. Michigan Ave., a small group of protesters outside took issue with what they called Jenner's "appropriation" of the transgender identity. And they even got a chance to tell Jenner how they feel to her face as she exited the hotel after the talk. (See video below.)
A 20-something South Sider who calls herself Violet Black led the group outside the hotel, saying that Jenner — a reality TV star who very publicly announced her transition to a woman earlier this year — is hijacking transgender culture now that it's socially convenient and "advantageous financially."
Jenner, Black said, is someone "who decided late in life [to transition] after accomplishing things enabled by whiteness and maleness."
"She rode the white male privilege train to the last stop, got off and bought a ticket back because she can," Black said.
Black, who declined to give her real name, said Jenner's background doesn't reflect that of many other transgender people, especially in Chicago. Black said she and her associates in the transgender community have endured homelessness, sexual assault and other stigma due to their gender identity. Jenner, meanwhile, is gracing magazine covers and signing television deals. "I'm done with trans people being the next pop culture spectacle," Black said.
In her speech, Jenner acknowledged that her story is "not even close" to that of many other transgender people, and that she could only speak to her own story instead of as the "transgender spokesperson" she said the media has christened her.
Jenner spoke about the troubles resulting from her celebrity. When media began circulating rumors of her transition, Jenner contemplated taking her own life, she said. But she decided that that would be "a terrible way to end [her story]," and instead opted to share it in a way that could "make a difference."
So far, Jenner said she believes a difference has been made. Instead of paparazzi chasing her for signs of her transition, media now focus on her appearance and other issues women in the news typically face, she said.
The speech was Jenner's first public speaking engagement since she accepted the Arthur Ashe Courage Award from ESPN this summer during a nationally televised awards show.
Jenner closed her remarks with four words she lives by: "gamble," "cheat," "lie," and "steal."
As in: "Gamble your best shot in life. Cheat those that would have you be less than you are. Lie in the arms of those that you love. And steal every moment of happiness."
The fundraiser raised $20,845 by the time Jenner ended her speech. Later, the celebrity confronted her protestors as she left the Michigan Avenue hotel:
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