Americas

Monica Roberts, Transgender Advocate and Journalist, Dies at 58

Monica Roberts, a transgender advocate and journalist who chronicled the lives, and sometimes the deaths, of transgender people through her blog, TransGriot, died on Oct. 5 at her home in Houston. She was 58.

Her mother, Mable Roberts, confirmed the death. She said that Ms. Roberts had complained of chest pains the day before her death and a medical examiner had found blood clots in her lungs.

In the West African tradition, a griot is a storyteller, and Ms. Roberts set out to tell the stories and history and lived experiences of the transgender community. She started her blog in 2006, at a time when coverage of transgender issues by the mainstream media was limited and often deemed offensive by those being covered.

“A proud unapologetic Black trans woman speaking truth to power and discussing the world around her” is how Ms. Roberts described her blog.

On TransGriot, she celebrated Breanna Sinclairé, a transgender opera singer who performed the national anthem at baseball games, and wrote about Raquel Willis, the former executive editor of Out magazine. She covered issues surrounding transgender rights and, in a blog post one month before her death, expressed support for Mia Mason, a transgender woman who is running for Congress in Maryland’s First District against Andy Harris, the incumbent. In that article, Ms. Roberts offered a capsule history of the transgender community and the world of politics, compiling a list of every transgender person worldwide ever elected to serve in a national legislatures.

On other occasions, Ms. Roberts, a sports fan, gave her N.F.L. picks.

“Her blog was important because she was chronicling the transgender experience deeply in a way that many outlets just weren’t in the mid-2000s,” said Ms. Willis, herself a Black transgender activist, in a phone interview. “Often, she was the only one who noticed and sang our praises.”

Angelica Ross, an actress and the founder of TransTech Social Enterprises, an organization that works to give L.G.B.T.Q. people career opportunities in tech, said that transgender readers trusted Ms. Roberts to tell their stories in a way they didn’t trust journalists from mainstream outlets.

“Monica wrote about things when no one else would, and she wrote about them with care,” Ms. Ross said. “She showed attention to the details, such as pronouns or naming us how we were known.”

Ms. Roberts became especially admired for her tireless work to identify transgender murder victims, who are often described by the police and in local media by their birth names. She found that such misgendering known as deadnaming, can make it harder to solve the crime, in part because friends of the deceased often don’t know their given names and may not learn of a death for days or longer.

Her sleuthing, which like her blog was largely self-funded, grew out of frustration, she told The Daily Beast in 2019 — particularly amid a rise in violence against transgender women that the American Medical Association declared an “epidemic.” “When you deliberately misgender a victim, then you’re delaying justice for that trans person who has been murdered,” Ms. Roberts said.

“I got tired of them being disrespected in death,” she added.

Monica Katrice Roberts was born on May 4, 1962, in Houston. Her father, Rick Roberts, was a local disc jockey and radio executive. Her mother was an elementary schoolteacher.

Ms. Roberts graduated from Jesse H. Jones High School (now Jones Futures Academy) in 1980 and went to work for Continental Airlines as a desk agent.

When Ms. Roberts began transitioning in the early 1990s and came to work dressed as a woman, she faced harassment from her co-workers and reprisals from her supervisors, Mable Roberts said.

Ms. Roberts moved to Louisville, Ky., and lived there for several years. She held various jobs, including security guard, before moving back to Houston and starting her career as a writer and advocate.

“There was something visionary about the work Monica Roberts was producing,” Ms. Willis said. “Her writing was the gateway for countless people’s journey to their gender identity.”

She was a force to be reckoned with in the local politics of Houston and “a pioneer in every sense of the word,” the city’s mayor, Sylvester Turner, said in a statement after her death.

As her fame grew, Ms. Roberts became a source for national L.G.B.T.Q. advocacy organizations and news outlets, as well as an outspoken voice on the issue of violence committed against transgender people, and Black transgender people specifically, attending conferences, demonstrating outside state capitol buildings and maintaining a vigilant online presence.

TransGriot received the Glaad Media Award for outstanding blog in 2018 and was nominated four other times.

Ms. Roberts also wrote for Ebony.com, HuffPost, The Advocate and other publications.

In addition to her mother, Ms. Roberts is survived by a brother, Kevin Roberts, and two sisters, Kecia Roberts and Latoya Roberts.

Dee Dee Watters, a close friend of Ms. Roberts, said what motivated her in all her efforts was making the world a little easier for younger generations of transgender people.

“Monica really wanted to make sure that the younger kids coming up would have some kind of life — easier than what we went through when we transitioned. That was the real goal,” Ms. Watters said in a phone interview. “It brought her joy seeing younger trans people being able to exist in their whole selves.”

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