Monica Roberts, a pioneering transgender blogger and advocate who was instrumental in bringing attention to the deaths of trans and non-binary individuals nationwide, died early this week at the age of 58.
KPRC-TV, an NBC affiliate in Roberts’ hometown of Houston, reported that she was fatally struck by a vehicle while taking out the trash at an apartment complex shortly after midnight on October 6, though ABC13 Houston reported that she was hit “late Monday night,” which was October 5. The vehicle subsequently fled the scene and police have been searching for it, according to both of those reports.
When reached by phone on October 9, a Houston police spokesperson would not confirm any details in those reports and insisted that authorities have yet to identify the victim in that case. Houston police referred Gay City News to Harris County’s medical examiner, and a spokesperson in that office only told Gay City News the cause of death is “pending.”
Editor’s Note: In a written statement on October 9, Houston police said “further investigation and an autopsy conducted by the Harris County Institute of Forensic Sciences determined Roberts suffered a medical emergency and was not the victim of a hit and run crash.”
Roberts was long revered by journalists and members of the community alike for her work as founder of TransGriot, a blog she launched in 2006. That site became a prime source of information about the discrimination, barriers, and violence facing transgender individuals of color at a time when many mainstream media outlets strayed away from covering those stories, perpetuated transphobic narratives, and deadnamed or misgendered victims. Frustratingly, those same issues persist today.
Dee Dee Watters, a trans activist who was close to Roberts, first shared the news of her death on Facebook on October 8.
“As I type this, tears are filling my eyes,” Watters wrote. “My best friend, my sister, my role dog Monica Roberts, was called home to glory on Monday…”
News of Roberts’ death reverberated across social media platforms throughout the evening of October 8. LGBTQ leaders, organizations, journalists, and celebrities expressed a combination of shock and grief upon learning of Roberts’ unexpected death.
Janet Mock, a writer, director, and activist whose recent work includes writing, directing, and producing the FX TV show “Pose,” shared a link to the TransGriot blog as she paid tribute to Roberts.
“Monica Roberts held us down — the first to defend, to celebrate, to amplify,” Mock wrote in a tweet. “I would not be where I am without her — a big sister who told it like it was, who centered Black trans lives, brilliance & history unapologetically. Rest well sis. Thank you.”
Raquel Willis, the communications director of the Ms. Foundation for Women who formerly was the executive editor of Out magazine, said she was saddened to hear about Roberts’ death and issued a call to action in honor of her.
“Our charge from our newest ancestor Monica Roberts is to uncover the glorious history of Black trans people and document our lives today and beyond,” Willis wrote on Twitter. “Her #BlackTransPower lives on.”
Among countless others, Human Rights Campaign president Alphonso David also acknowledged Roberts’ passing and described her as a “true trailblazer and an important voice for trans rights in Texas and around the country.”
Darnell Moore, an author who received a Gay City News Impact Award last year, said he lost a friend in Roberts.
“Someone who I looked to for courage… for voice,” Moore wrote in a tweet. “I’m better for having spent time in her presence on the rare occasions we were able to be in the same room. And I give thanks for her advocacy! I won’t forget her. May she rise in power.”
The Trans Journalists Association, which provides support to transgender journalists and guidance to newsrooms on trans-related coverage, hailed the late blogger for her tireless work.
“Today we are devastated to learn of the passing of Monica Roberts (@TransGriot), a pioneering trans journalist who dedicated her life to lifting the voices of Black trans lives,” the Trans Journalist Association wrote in a tweet. “Her exemplary work as a reporter shows the necessity of trans people writing our own stories.”
Several other LGBTQ organizations, including legal groups, also spoke up. The Transgender Law Center said in a tweet that the organization was “devastated to learn of the passing of @TransGriot” and pointed to her “groundbreaking work for our communities for decades,” while Lambda Legal CEO Kevin Jennings said his organization was “heartbroken” upon learning of Roberts’ death.
“This is an incredibly sad loss for the city of Houston and the country,” Jennings said in a written statement. “Our hearts go out to all who knew her and were touched by her kind spirit. Monica was a beacon of light in our fight for equality in Texas — and all over this country. She advocated on behalf of those often left in our movement’s shadows, especially Black transgender women.”
GLAAD described Roberts’ death as a “monumental loss for the entire LGBTQ community.”
“She was a powerful voice for trans people, using her platform to speak out against discrimination and violence,” GLAAD’s tweet noted. “She will be missed by the countless people whose lives she changed for the better.”
The National LGBTQ Task Force remembered Roberts as one of the “fiercest voices” in the LGBTQ community and credited her for raising awareness of trans folks and inspiring those around her.
“Monica was part of the Task Force family, just this year we recognized her at our Creating Change Conference with the Susan J. Hyde Award for Longevity in the Movement,” Rea Carey, the National LGBTQ Task Force’s executive director, said in a written statement. “She spoke powerfully at a rally decrying the epidemic of violence against the trans community at the same 2020 conference, which she meticulously reported on, often providing support to local communities and families, while holding the media and law enforcement accountable and seeking justice for her trans siblings.”
Roberts’ work remained crucially important up until her death. Many media outlets and police departments continue to either ignore or disrespect trans victims, and at least 31 known transgender individuals have suffered violent deaths this year — a death toll that ties a full-year record with more than two months remaining in 2020.
Sadly, Roberts died just as she was anticipating an opportunity to vote early in the upcoming election. Her final social media post, which was published across multiple platforms including Facebook and Twitter, included a photo of a voting machine with the word “VOTE!” labeled on it.
In that post, Roberts wrote, “Just hit me I’ve been voting in elections for local, state, and national candidates since 1980. And can’t wait until October 13… #FireTrump #FireTheGOP #FireTheTXGOP.”
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