Updated: Trans activist and journalist Monica Roberts dies

  • by Cynthia Laird, News Editor
  • Wednesday October 14, 2020
Share this Post:
Monica Roberts. Photo: Courtesy National LGBTQ Task Force
Monica Roberts. Photo: Courtesy National LGBTQ Task Force

Monica Roberts, a prominent Black transgender activist and journalist who shined a light on trans violence and other issues, died Monday, October 5, at her home in Houston. She was 58.

The New York Times reported October 13 that Ms. Roberts' mother, Mable Roberts, said she had suffered from chest pains the day before her death and that the medical examiner had found blood clots in her lungs.

LGBTQ community members started learning of Ms. Roberts' passing last Thursday afternoon and many were shocked upon hearing the news.

NLGJA, the Association of LGBTQ Journalists, stated that Ms. Roberts' passing was "a tremendous loss."

"Monica has been a tireless voice for the trans community, in particular the Black trans community," stated Ina Fried, NLGJA's vice president of print. "Countless stories, otherwise untold, were heard because of her strong, unwavering voice."

"She opened so many eyes — including my own — not just to the harsh realities faced by so many in the Black and Brown trans communities, but also to the richness of their beautiful and courageous lives," Fried added. "Monica also pushed the media, LGBTQ media and mainstream journalists alike, encouraging all of us to do better."

Fried, a trans woman, added that one of her fondest memories of Ms. Roberts was at NLGJA's convention in 2018 in Palm Springs when it held one of its Trans 101 panels.

"Monica was in the audience, both to hear what we had to say and to hold us to account," Fried stated. "A few minutes into the panel, we invited her to join the panel because, frankly, we couldn't do the topic justice without her insight and wisdom."

Ms. Roberts had just been appointed to NLGJA's board last month, president Sharif Durhams stated.

The National LGBTQ Task Force was one of many organizations that issued statements praising Ms. Roberts' life and mourning her.

"This week, the LGBTQ+ community lost one of our fiercest voices in Monica Roberts, an activist who not only lifted up the stories of trans people and inspired generations of countless transgender and nonbinary people but all those who knew her," Rea Carey, a lesbian who is executive director of the task force, stated October 8. "She was a mother, sister, aunt, friend, protector, and voice for the voiceless. Her journalism was groundbreaking, her advocacy impactful and her spirit and passion limitless. There are people — especially trans members of our community — who are alive and thriving today because of her work."

Carey said the task force honored Ms. Roberts earlier this year at its Creating Change conference, where she received the Susan J. Hyde Award for Longevity in the Movement.

"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," Carey stated. "One could not be in her presence without being inspired to be a better activist — including me. Our hearts are with her family, her innumerable friends and colleagues and especially the trans community, which has lost an elder, a pioneer, and a extraordinary human being."

Alphonso David, president of the Human Rights Campaign, called Ms. Roberts "an icon and a trailblazing voice for transgender rights" in reaction to the news that she had died.

"We are deeply saddened to learn of her passing, and offer our most heartfelt condolences to her friends, family, and loved ones," stated David, a gay Black man, on behalf of the national LGBTQ advocacy organization. "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."

Ms. Roberts was the founding editor of the award winning TransGriot blog, and a longtime award-winning human rights advocate. She advocated for the human rights of transgender people for more than 20 years, with a focus on the issues affecting Black trans people.

Her writing appeared at Ebony.com, the Advocate, Black Girl Dangerous, Dallas Voice, and in the Unapologetically Trans monthly column in Houston's OutSmart magazine.

Some of the honors that Ms. Roberts has received are the 2018 GLAAD Media Award, the Robert Coles Call of Service Award from Harvard University's Phillips Brooks House Association, the Virginia Prince Transgender Pioneer Award, the Barbara Jordan Breaking Barriers Award from the Harris County Democratic Party, the IFGE Trinity Award, and being named to the 2019 OUT 100.

GLAAD called Ms. Roberts' death "devastating."

"She was an unstoppable advocate and a powerful voice, always speaking up for justice and uplifting the trans community," said GLAAD President and CEO Sarah Kate Ellis, a lesbian. "Part of her advocacy was work creating her own media stories, and fighting to change and shape mainstream media's coverage of trans people. She told the stories about Black trans people that weren't told elsewhere. 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."

Help keep the Bay Area Reporter going in these tough times. To support local, independent, LGBTQ journalism, consider becoming a BAR member.