Houstonians and the LGBTQ community nationwide are mourning the loss of trailblazing transgender activist and journalist Monica Roberts, who died earlier this week. The native Houstonian and creator of the GLAAD Media Award-winning blog, TransGriot, was 58.
News of her death broke on Thursday after fellow activist and close friend Dee Dee Watters shared the heartbreaking news in a Facebook post.
As I type this tears are filling my eyes my best friend my sister my role dog Monica Roberts was called home to glory on...Posted by Dee Dee Watters on Thursday, October 8, 2020
Born in 1962, Roberts, a Jones High School and University of Houston grad, began her transition in 1993. The first transgender recipient of the Houston GLBT Caucus’s Don Hrachovy Lifetime Achievement Award, she worked closely with the Houston Police Department regarding the treatment of LGBTQ victims in criminal cases and lobbied for transgender rights on both the local, state, and national levels. Roberts, who received multiple awards for her advocacy, was also a founding member of the National Transgender Advocacy Coalition.
In 2006, Roberts founded her influential blog to give a voice to trans people of color, who were being neglected by mainstream media outlets. Her blog was one of the first to track the murders of transgender community members, deaths that were going unnoticed as police departments and news outlets used the incorrect names and genders in their report—practices often referred to as “dead naming” and misgendering.
Over the course of her reporting, Roberts herself achieved recognition and became a national figure in the trans rights movement. In accepting a 2016 GLAAD award for her reporting on her famed blog where she strove to show the world what it meant to cover trans rights accurately, Roberts was clear about her mission. "LGBTQ rights are international human rights," Roberts said. "We trans people exist. We are part of the diverse mosaic of human life and we will not be dehumanized or disrespected by friend, foe, frenemy or my governor."
"She told the stories about Black trans people that weren’t told elsewhere,” Sarah Kate Ellis, president and CEO of the LGBTQ media advocacy group GLAAD, said in a statement on Twitter. “Her legacy will live on in all of the trans advocates she empowered through her own community work, and through her revolutionary TransGriot blog which preserves trans history and provides an in-depth portrait of the fierce, funny, brilliant, incisive woman who created it.”
Roberts’ death follows an especially violent summer for members of the transgender community. At least 31 individuals who identify as transgender or gender nonconforming have been killed in 2020 so far this year, according to the Human Rights Campaign. Most were transgender women of color. Since the organization began tracking the data in 2013, it has never seen a number this high through this point in another year.
It was originally reported that Roberts’ was thought to have been the victim of a suspected hit-and-run earlier this week, however, family members and friends have since revealed that they believe she died of natural causes after feeling ill days prior. An autopsy report is expected to be released in the coming days. HPD issued a statement Friday afternoon that she had died of an unspecified "medical emergency."
However, in the hours since news of Roberts’ death broke, the focus has been on her life and what she achieved rather than her death. Local and state leaders, including Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo, U.S. Rep. Sylvia Garcia, and Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzales, as well as advocates and community leaders, have all shared statements focusing on the work she did, her tireless advocacy and uncrushable spirit.
“Monica Roberts walked every hall of government with professionalism, grace, and toughness to ensure transgender individual and everyone in the LGBTQIA+ community were not forgotten nor overlooked,” Mayor Sylvester Turner recalled Thursday night. “Tonight, our city pauses to remember the impact Monica has made.”