A pioneering advocate for the trans community who was instrumental in changing the way much of the media regards and reports on trans lives has died. Houston-based journalist-activist Monica Roberts, founder of the TransGriot blog and host of the TransGriot with Monica Roberts YouTube series, “was called home to glory on Monday,” according to a close friend’s Facebook post (h/t the Advocate). Roberts was 58.
As reported by Out magazine:
Roberts is the founder of the GLAAD Media Award-winning blog which has been covering trans issues since 2006. Prior to mainstream outlets beginning to cover violence against, and the accomplishments of the trans community, Roberts was doing so. That work lived not only on her blog but in her writing for publications like Ebony, The Advocate, The Dallas Voice, and OutSmart Magazine. She told Out in 2019 that she “took up the mantle” simply because “nobody else was doing it.”
Translash Media founder Imara Jones was among the first to make Roberts’ death widely known on Wednesday afternoon, expressing shock over the “sudden loss” and tweeting: “For trans journalists, she was a pioneer and an essential North Star. I know so many of us will be deeply saddened by her passing.” Tributes continued to pour in through the afternoon and evening, with Alicia Garza, Janet Mock, Angelica Ross among the many mourning the groundbreaking activist.
“The TransGriot blog’s mission is to become the griot of our community,” read the mission statement Roberts penned for her blog, founded in 2006, where she sought to center and amplify the voices and lives of trans people throughout the African diaspora. Since that time, she had become largely credited with drawing much-needed attention and dignity to transgender murder victims, who are disproportionately Black and female, and often misgendered by authorities and media, as explained in a 2019 profile on Roberts in the Daily Beast:
“Whenever you read about the transgender people killed in any given year, it’s in large part due to the work Roberts does. National LGBT advocacy organizations and mainstream news outlets alike rely on her as an early source of information,” the outlet wrote.
Roberts was born in Houston in 1962, making her transition in 1994 while in her early thirties and well before trans issues were a part of mainstream discourse. Further explaining how she’d eventually take on the arduous task of doing what local media and law enforcement had historically been too lazy or indifferent to do, the Daily Beast reported:
Whenever she discovers through Facebook that there’s been a death in the community, she begins investigating, combing through local news reports of recent killings in the area. Often, within half an hour, Roberts can match the name of a slain transgender person to a murder victim who has been identified only by their legal name in local coverage. Then she publishes her findings on her long-running blog TransGriot.
“I got tired,” Roberts told the outlet, noting that misgendering victims often also delays delivering them the justice their lives deserve. “I got tired of them being disrespected in death.”
For her efforts, Roberts was awarded the Virginia Prince Transgender Pioneer Award, the Robert Coles Call of Service Award, the Barbara Jordan Breaking Barriers Award, the Human Rights Campaign’s John Walzel Equality Award in 2017, and the 2020 Susan J. Hyde Award for Longevity In The Movement. In 2016, she was memorably honored with a special recognition award for her blog at the 2016 GLAAD Media Awards, presented to her by none other than Ross, who tweeted, “I’ll miss that laugh. You won’t be forgotten...Rest in Power.”
The news of [Monica Roberts’] passing has brought me to a standstill,” tweeted fellow journalist Carmen Phillips. “Working in queer independent media, there’s not a sentence—even a word—any of us form that isn’t built on her advocacy, love, and life’s work. We’ve lost an absolute Giant. May she rest.”
No further details have been released on Roberts’ cause of death, but her own words regarding victims of anti-trans violence are proving equally true in considering her own tremendous impact.
“Those are losses not only to our community but to our society as a whole,” she told the Daily Beast.
Similarly, the loss of Roberts is felt keenly both within the LGBTQ+ community and well beyond. “We are grateful for the impact Monica made industrywide,” the National Association of Black Journalists tweeted.
“Monica Roberts was an icon and a trailblazing voice for transgender rights, both in her home state of Texas and around the country,” said Alphonso David, president of the Human Rights Campaign (h/t the Advocate). “For decades, Monica has been a fierce leader bringing light to the injustice transgender people face, especially Black transgender women. She leaves behind a strong, and vital legacy—one that every LGBTQ person and ally should work to honor and advance. Rest in power, Monica, and thank you.”
However, perhaps the best assessment of Roberts’ remarkable legacy was made by the activist herself.
“Our rights movement is like a relay race,” Roberts told the Daily Beast. “The torch got handed to me at a certain point and when it’s time for me to pass it on, I’m just going to turn around and hand that torch back to the next generation for y’all to advance—and then hand it to the trans kids behind you.”
“Our goal,” Roberts added, “is to never let the flame go out.”