LOS ANGELES – There’s a certain comfort in those friendships in one’s life that transcend work, or even some familial relationships with others who one deems close. A friendship where if separated by even distance and time you can still pick a phone- call, and the thread of conversation seemingly picks right up as though time itself hadn’t been interrupted.
A friendship that wasn’t defined by race, nor gender, nor societal conventions. A friendship that had a special bond of unbridled joy and mutual respect and love. That’s the friendship I had with Monica Roberts I cherished and now upon learning of her passage I will grieve over its loss just as much as I will grieve losing my friend.
Monica passed away earlier this week yet the essence of her spirit and love for ‘the least of these’ shall always remain especially among the LGBTQ youth who saw her as their favorite ‘Aunty.’
There’s a hole in my heart and my chest feels like all the air has been sucked forcefully out of it in that deep pain that a loss such as this inflicts on a person. She was more than just a friend however, she was a colleague who fiercely advocated for her Trans brothers and sisters. She fought hard to ensure that in her beloved Houston as well as the whole of Texas, Trans rights- Trans people would be able to live in dignity, safety, and have equal protections in the eyes of the law. Every battle no matter how seemingly insignificant Monica treated in equal measure with the same fierce devotion to the cause as she saw it working towards a goal of parity for all Trans and cisgender people.
She embraced identity of being a strong Black transwoman, a role model for others but with one eye on always remembering her own journey. She always stressed that in order to get where one was going- one must remember where they came from.
Monica started her TransGriot blog in 2006. One of the primary reasons was that many press outlets simply overlooked Trans identities and would normally as a matter of course identify Trans victims by their assigned sex at birth. In her eyes that was not only disrespectful but flat out wrong- but particularly trans folks who had been murdered.
In an interview with The Daily Beast, she said that she took on the task because “I got tired of them being disrespected in death.”
“When you deliberately misgender a victim,” she said, “then you’re delaying justice for that trans person who has been murdered.”
That’s how I met her. I was working for a mainstream wire service and had just added working in LGBTQ media to my portfolio. She was recommended by a friend as ‘the go-to’ person for information and more so, correct protocols for respectfully and accurately reporting on Trans issues. She became my teacher, my mentor, my at times LGBTQ guidance counselor, but most of all- my friend.
The Houston native was an award winning advocate and voice on trans rights issues for over 20 years. In addition to being honored with the 2018 GLAAD Media Award for Outstanding Blog, she became the first trans person to receive the Robert Coles Call of Service Award in 2016. She also received the Barbara Jordan Breaking Barriers Award from the Harris County Democratic Party and the Susan Hyde Award for Longevity in the Movement from the National LGBTQ Task Force.
“Monica was a force in our industry, and she gave me great insight and support,” said The Association of LGBTQ Journalists (NLGJA) President Sharif Durhams. “I was excited to appoint her to our Board of Directors last month because of the additional contributions I was sure she would make to our organization and our industry. We will miss her. Her spirit lives on in the journalists she mentored and inspired.”
“The loss of Monica Roberts is 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. “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.”
“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 non-binary people but all those who knew her. 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,” said Rea Carey, Executive Director of the National LGBTQ Task Force.
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.
In addition to the 2018 GLAAD Media Award, she was awarded the Robert Coles Call of Service Award from Harvard University’s Phillips Brooks House Assn, 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 OUT100.
Kevin Jennings, Lambda Legal CEO, made the following statement:
“Lambda Legal is heartbroken at the devastating news that pioneering journalist and activist, Monica Roberts, has passed away. Her commitment to fighting for LGBTQ equality and telling our transgender community’s stories left an indelible mark on media and our movement.
“This is an incredibly sad loss for the city of Houston and the country. 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.
“Monica Roberts created TransGriot; a blog focused on the lives of transgender women, especially those of color when no one else was telling those stories. With her life-saving community activism and award-winning reporting, Monica changed the culture. She inspired a generation of journalists and countless young people who wanted to devote their lives to justice.
“Monica was fearless, and she demanded respect for transgender people, no matter who it was. Her love for and her commitment to her community saved lives. Monica Roberts never stopped talking about the violence against transgender women. Her mission to end the misgendering of transgender victims in media to ensure transgender women’s dignity in death was often the only final rites that they received. Monica’s care for those women is her legacy.
In an update to the news of the death of my friend Monica Roberts:
HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) — A day after news broke of Texas transgender rights advocate Monica Roberts’ death, Eyewitness News has learned that she was the victim in a hit-and-run crash earlier this week.
Roberts was identified in the incident that happened late Monday night at an apartment complex in southwest Houston. Police believe she was taking out the trash when she was hit. Investigators have not identified a suspect or a vehicle in the case.
An initial police report indicated she may have been hit by a car, but now, friends and family say the cause could be natural. Family members told ABC13 on Friday that she had not been feeling well in recent days. They had encouraged her to get a COVID-19 test, but are not certain if that happened. Family members said they are waiting for the medical examiner’s office to give them an official cause of death.
Brody Levesque is a veteran wire services political journalist and editor who currently serves as the Editor-at-Large of the Los Angeles Blade. Levesque also serves as the producer of Hollywood, California- based Rated LGBT Radio, a weekly podcast on LGBTQ issues and life.