The LGBTQ community has lost a light this week. Monica Roberts, a groundbreaking transgender journalist and blogger, died in Houston at age 58. She started her blog, TransGriot, shortly after I began this one. I had the honor of meeting her at several conferences, and was always struck by her strength, knowledge, and commitment to lifting up trans youth.
In addition to reporting on transgender news generally at her blog, Monica focused on tracking and identifying transgender victims of murder, many of whom were reported by the mainstream media under their previous, not chosen, names. She showed the injustice in their deaths—but also showed us stories of transgender lives, part of her mission “to become the griot of our community,” as she said at her blog. A “griot” is a West African storyteller and oral historian. She asserted:
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.
Her writing appeared at the Bilerico Project, where we both wrote for some time, Ebony.com, The Huffington Post and the Advocate. This past January, she was given the 2020 Susan J. Hyde Award for Longevity In The Movement from the National LGBTQ Task Force. Her many other honors include the International Foundation For Gender Education’s Trinity Award, the transgender community’s highest meritorious service award; the Virginia Prince Transgender Pioneer Award; the Robert Coles Call of Service Award; the Barbara Jordan Breaking Barriers Award; and a GLAAD Media Award for her blog. She was a founder of the National Transgender Advocacy Coalition and was the political director of its board from 1999 to 2002. She also served on the board of Louisville, Kentucky’s Fairness Campaign and its political action committee, C-FAIR. She advocated for transgender rights in her local community of Houston; at the state level in Texas and Kentucky, and at the federal level.
Critically, too, she embraced her position as a mentor and role model for the rising generation of transgender children and youth, and would regularly tweet messages to her “trans kids,” like this one from March: “To my trans kids. Just wanted to let you know that your Aunt Moni and your trans elders love you and will always fight for you.” And in July, she tweeted, “Hey trans kids! Just your reminder that Aunt Moni loves you! Don’t be afraid to dream big dreams and work to make them come true. Your trans elders will continue the fight to make the world better for you when you hit our age.”
Hey trans kids! Just your reminder that Aunt Moni loves you! Don’t be afraid to dream big dreams and work to make them come true.
Your trans elders will continue the fight to make the world better for you when you hit our age. pic.twitter.com/rHhREBDocB
— Monica Roberts (@TransGriot) July 17, 2020
In a poignant 2017 blog post titled, “My Sisters, I Want You To Grow Old,” she wrote of the anti-trans violence that has taken so many young lives:
My sisters, I want you to know what it’s like to be my age, Tracie Jada O’Brien’s, Justina Williams’, Gloria Allen’s or Miss Major’s age. I would love to see some of y’all with gray hair. or how fab you will look when you hit 35, 40 or 50. I want to see how your fab trans lives evolve, I can’t be a mentor to you if I don’t have you around to pass down your history and some of my life experiences to as was done for me by my trans elders.
I want my Black trans sisters to be able to age gracefully, have and experience the amazing lives I know they are capable of having.
I want to see you grow old. Is that too much to ask for, society?
We do not yet know the cause of Monica’s death, but what I do know is that while she proudly bore the mantle of a trans elder, 58 was still far too young for her to be taken from us. I wish that she, too, had had the chance to grow much older. As a White, cisgender woman, I can only imagine the incalculable loss being felt right now by the Black and transgender communities of which she was part. My heart is with them today—and I hope my actions as an ally for transgender people will be with them in the days to come. Yet as Monica wrote publicly at her Facebook page, she was also “trying to do my small part to make the world better for everybody.” Her loss is a loss for all of us. May the light of her memory continue to shine.
For more about Monica and her work, see: