In a deeply moving speech as she accepted sports cable network ESPN's Arthur Ashe Courage Award, Caitlyn Jenner has called for respect for transgender people and has described her own trans journey as "harder on me than anything I could have imagined".

Jenner, who as Bruce Jenner won gold in the decathlon at the 1976 Olympics, was making her first major public appearance at ESPN's Excellence in Sports Performance Yearly Awards in the US on Wednesday night.

She received a standing ovation and described the past few months as "eye-opening, inspiring, but also frightening".

She told the audience: "It's not just about one person - it's about thousands of people. It's about all of us accepting one another. We're all different - it's not a bad thing." 

"I also want to acknowledge all the young trans athletes out there, getting to play sports as who they truly are," she said.

Paying tribute to her loved ones, Jenner said: "I'd like to thank my family. I never wanted to hurt anyone else, most of all my family and my kids. I am so, so grateful to have all of you in my life." 

Jenner was joined at the awards ceremony by children Burt Jenner and Cassandra Marino from marriage to first wife Chrystie Crownover, Brandon and Brody Jenner from marriage to second wife Linda Thompson and Kendall and Kylie Jenner from marriage to third wife Kris Jenner. 

Stepdaughters Kourtney and Khloé Kardashian and Kim Kardashian West were also in attendance.