News & Opinion

LGBTQ+ issues

Monica Roberts, pioneering transgender journalist and founder of TransGriot, dies

Website:
The Daily Beast

Date:
October 8, 2020

Journalist Monica Roberts set up her blog TransGriot to ensure trans murder victims were remembered as who they were, and not misgendered. Her death is a profound shock to many.

The pioneering journalist Monica Roberts, whose influential blog TransGriot reports on the murders of trans women alongside other news of importance to the trans community, has died, according to multiple sources on social media and news outlets.

The award winning Roberts was an inspiration to many LGBTQ activists, campaigners and journalists, who took to Twitter and Facebook to express their grief and shock Thursday night.

In a Facebook post, the Black Trans Advocacy Coalition wrote: “It is with great sadness that the BTAC family has received notice of the passing of Monica Roberts, our sister, aunt, and friend. We should have a well elaborated post about this, but at the moment we just need to notify the public and begin processing our grief and loss at this time. Please keep Monica’s soul, friends and family in your prayers that they all may find comfort and peace at this time of separation. We love you Monica. Fly high, angel.”

Alphonso David, president of the Human Rights Campaign, said in a statement: “Monica Roberts was an icon and a trailblazing voice for transgender rights, both in her home state of Texas and around the country. We are deeply saddened to learn of her passing, and offer our most heartfelt condolences to her friends, family, and loved ones. 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.”

In a profile of her life and work published by The Daily Beast last year, Roberts told Samantha Allen that she began TransGriot because she got “tired” of trans murder victims “being disrespected in death,” by being misgendered by cops and the media.

“They’ve been running with the police wire [copy] far too often,” Roberts said of local news outlets. “And while there are some police departments that are sensitive to our community, there are others which are hotbeds of transphobia and homophobia.”

Misgendering also had a more practical, knock-on effect, she said—it unnecessarily delayed and undermined the investigation into the victim’s death.

“We know for a fact that the first 48 hours are critical in any murder investigation in whether the person gets justice,” Roberts said. “So when you deliberately misgender a victim, then you’re delaying justice for that trans person who has been murdered.”

The news of Roberts’ death came days after news of the latest known murder of a trans person—Felycya Harris in Augusta, Georgia—brought this year’s total of trans killings to 31, tying with the highest number so far recorded in 2017, with nearly three months of 2020 left to go.

“When you think about the people that we lose to anti-trans violence,” Roberts told The Daily Beast, “these are folks that—who knows—could have been the next person to get elected to public office or had the next great business idea or maybe had the cure for cancer if they had just had the opportunity to live their lives—or just simply gotten the chance to find love and get married and have a family. Those are losses not only to our community but to our society as a whole.”

As Allen reported, Roberts was born in Texas in 1962 in a segregated hospital to a mother who worked as a schoolteacher and a father who worked as a DJ. Her school didn’t fully desegregate until 1984. Her father, Roberts told Allen, “led a strike at the radio station” to ensure that black people could work not just as DJs, but in sales and management-level positions as well. “I come from a long line of hell-raisers,” she said, laughing.

Roberts spoke movingly about her relationship with her parents, and their acceptance of her transition. At Christmas dinner in 1996–after Roberts had been on hormones for two years—her mom joked, “Well, people always said when you were a kid that you look like me. Now you really look like me.”

Roberts worked as an airline gate agent for 14 years, and then—moving to Louisville, Kentucky—became a journalist and activist. She was a founding member of the National Transgender Advocacy Coalition, a columnist on Louisville-based GLBT newspaper The Letter, and launched TransGriot in 2006. Its homepage is titled: “A proud unapologetic Black trans woman speaking truth to power and discussing the world around her.”

Its mission statement reads: “The TransGriot blog’s mission is to become the griot of our community. I will introduce you to and talk about your African descended trans brothers and trans sisters across the Diaspora, reclaim and document our chocolate flavored trans history, speak truth to power, comment on the things that impact our trans community from an Afrocentric perspective and enlighten you about the general things that go on around me and in the communities that I am a member of.”

In 2010, Roberts moved back to her hometown of Houston, Texas, and in the last decade had seen both the advances in trans rights, equality, and cultural representation, alongside the violence she reported on and the anti-trans legislative animus of the Trump administration.

Among Roberts’ many honors—alongside a GLAAD award—were the Virginia Prince Transgender Pioneer Award, the Robert Coles Call of Service Award. the Barbara Jordan Breaking Barriers Award, and the 2020 Susan J Hyde Award for Longevity In The Movement. Her last post, dated October 1, focused on NFL picks in the fourth week of the current season.

In a moving obituary, Dawn Ennis, the managing editor of Outsports, recalled both Roberts’ activism and friendship—and (she was also a sports fan) her avid support of the Houston Texans and Astros.

In another Daily Beast interview last year to mark the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, Roberts told this author: “While we have come a long way since 1969, are electing people to public office, and are culture influencers, we still have much work to do. Trans people’s rights aren’t secure. We have had SCOTUS cases go for and against us since 1969. Black trans women are still viciously attacked and murdered. The churches, right-wing media and right-wing politicians are still pushing anti-TBLGQ (transgender, bisexual, lesbian, gay, queer) rhetoric for political gain. We cannot rest until full equity exists for the entire community.”

n the next 50 years, Roberts hope to see “more TBLGQ people elected to public office, and especially TBLGQ people of color. The Equality Act passed. Trans rights being unconditionally acknowledged in society and law as human rights. Our kids being able to grow up and just focus on making their big dreams come true instead of battling bullies. Our churches to stop Bible-beating TBLGQ people. Trans folks being allowed to compete in athletics like anyone else. Trans medical procedures being covered by universal health care, like they are in other developed nations.”

Those opposed to trans equality, Roberts told Allen, “failed to realize…that when you have a group of people who have to fight tooth and nail just to be who they are and just to exist, we’re going to fight you just as hard when you try to oppress us. They’re finding that it’s been a lot harder to erase us than they thought.”

As for her own life and work, Roberts saw it on a vital and sustaining continuum.

“I happened to be born at the time that I needed to be born in order to kind of set the table for the advances that we’re making,” Roberts told Allen. “Our rights movement is like a relay race. 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 told The Daily Beast, “is to never let the flame go out.”