Roberts was an award-winning journalist who spent decades fighting for better news coverage of Black trans people, often correcting news outlets that even now continue to misgender or deadname trans people. She spent years covering the killings of trans people and spoke passionately about the need for increased trans visibility in media.
"When you think about the people that we lose to anti-trans violence, these are folks that, who knows, could have been the next person to get elected to public office or had the next great business idea or maybe had the cure for cancer if they had just had the opportunity to live their lives — or just simply gotten the chance to find love and get married and have a family," she said in a profile of her by The Daily Beast last year.
"Those are losses not only to our community but to society as a whole," she added.
Roberts became a journalist after years working as an airline gate agent. She eventually helped to found the National Transgender Advocacy Coalition and fight tirelessly for the rights of trans people.
"Our rights movement is like a relay race. The torch got handed to me at a certain point and when it's time for me to pass it on, I'm just going to turn around and hand that torch back to the next generation for y'all to advance–and then hand it to the trans kids behind you," she told The Daily Beast. "Our goal is to never let the flame go out."
There was an outpouring of grief online from towering figures in the trans community, who highlighted the impact of Roberts' work and her efforts to foster better, in-depth coverage of trans people.
GLAAD President and CEO Sarah Kate Ellis called Roberts "an unstoppable advocate and a powerful voice, always speaking up for justice and uplifting the trans community," in an interview with The Advocate.
"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," Ellis said.
"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," she added.
Roberts started TransGriot in 2006 and has won numerous awards for her work. She told Out in 2019 that she was compelled to do her work not just for herself but for the community.
“I can’t tell you how many times I’ve run into some trans millennial who tells me that my blog inspired them to do this or inspired them to do that. At least five people have told me that reading my blog posts is what kept them from committing suicide. So every time I sit down and start writing a post, I keep that in mind — that what I’m writing may inspire someone who does not want to persevere,” Roberts said last year.
According to The Advocate, Roberts won the Human Rights Coalition's John Walzel Equality Award in 2017, the Susan J Hyde Award for Longevity in the Movement at Creating Change last year and the outstanding blog award at the GLAAD Media Awards in 2018. The Advocate named her one of the Women Of The Year in May.
Producer and activist Imara Jones tweeted, "I’m shocked at the sudden loss of @TransGriot. For trans journalists she was a pioneer and an essential North Star. I know so many of us will be deeply saddened by her passing."
I’m shocked at the sudden loss of @TransGriot. For trans journalists she was a pioneer and an essential North Star. I know so many of us will be deeply saddened by her passing. #BlackTransLivesMatter @TransJA @translashmedia https://t.co/z0mkeDfsYT
— imarajones (@imarajones) October 8, 2020
Raquel Willis, director of communications for the Ms Foundation, called Roberts "a powerful force for Black trans journalism" and said her "work and brilliance live on through us."
Monica Roberts was always so supportive of upcoming trans journalists, writers, and media critics. Her award-winning blog, TransGriot, was often the first to report on what was happening in the trans community long before larger LGBTQ+ outlets and organizations cared to cover us.
— Raquel Willis (@RaquelWillis_) October 8, 2020
"And even up until this year, her blog was often the first to report on instances of anti-trans murder and violence. We owe a great debt to her diligence and persistence in fighting for the honor and dignity of our lives," Willis added.
Trans journalists commended Roberts for paving the way for them and continuing to do the work of highlighting the violence trans women, particularly Black trans women, continue to face.
Pride Media CEO Diane Anderson-Minshall wrote in the Advocate in May that Roberts was "one of the first people — not just among reporters, but activists as well — on the story when a killing strikes in the trans or gender-expressive communities."
“No reporter this year has covered the breadth of Black trans women’s lives — and very often, deaths — the way this journalist has,” Anderson-Minshall said. "She knows enough by now to sift through mainstream news reports and detect trans lives while local reporters are still butchering their stories and deadnaming the victims."
Today we are devastated to learn of the passing of Monica Roberts (@TransGriot), a pioneering trans journalist who dedicated her life to lifting the voices of Black trans lives. Her exemplary work as a reporter shows the necessity of trans people writing our own stories. https://t.co/HVDNYRwc78
— Trans Journalists Association ⚧ (@TransJA) October 8, 2020
Roberts often criticized local media outlets for how they covered the deaths of trans people. Her work has become evermore important as the number of trans killings reached record-setting levels this month.
"They've been running with the police wire [copy] far too often. And while there are some police departments that are sensitive to our community, there are others which are hotbeds of transphobia and homophobia," she told The Daily Beast in a profile last year.
"We know for a fact that the first 48 hours are critical in any murder investigation in whether the person gets justice. So when you deliberately misgender a victim, then you're delaying justice for that trans person who has been murdered," she added.
Roberts was born and raised in Houston and has long advocated for trans rights within Texas politics, according to local news outlet Click2Houston.
Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo called Roberts a "friend and fighter" and said she "was a bright light and relentless champion for what is right."
Monica, I will miss you so much," Hidalgo added.
Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzales joined other advocates and activists in Texas who spoke about about Roberts' death.
The sudden death of @TransGriot is a huge loss. Her fierce advocacy for #trans rights was crucial and admirable. Let's vow to remember her and stand in solidarity to advance her work. She worked to stop anti #transgender violence and discrimination. Rest in Power. #HouNews
— Ed Gonzalez (@SheriffEd_HCSO) October 8, 2020
Click2Houston spoke with multiple activists in the state who lauded Roberts for her tireless efforts.
Equality Texas CEO Ricardo Martinez sent a statement to the news outlet where he said Roberts was "one of the first bloggers to center and accurately depict stories about communities of color."
"She was force – a fearless, unapologetic Black trans woman who fought courageously for everyone’s human rights. She tapped into her authentic organizing frequency on the daily to disarm and connect with people on a human level," Martinez said.
"The ferocity, authenticity and passion she brought to our movement was unmatched and her legacy will live on for decades to come. Last year, Equality Texas honored Monica Roberts as our first transgender activist of the year award during our 30th Anniversary Gala," he noted, adding that the organization planned to rename the award in her honor to the Monica Roberts Transgender Activist of the Year Award.
Alphonso David, president of the Human Rights Campaign, told ABC13 that Roberts was "an icon and a trailblazing voice for transgender rights, both in her home state of Texas and around the country."
"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," David said.
Last year she spoke with AJ+ and said she wanted to model the kind of reporting that she always wanted for the trans community.
"We have Black trans folks who are doing amazing things. far too often i saw Black trans victims being misgendered, using the words 'man in woman's clothing.' The chosen name of the trans person in quotation marks. I was fed up with it and I wanted to role model what good coverage looked like. I felt like the history of trans folks, especially Black trans folks, wasn't really told," she said.
LGBTQ activist and creator of the TransGriot blog Monica Roberts died this week, according to trans activists.
In 2019, AJ+ spoke to Roberts about her reporting on the trans community: "I wanted to role model what good coverage looked like." pic.twitter.com/wv91fNqtSo
— AJ+ (@ajplus) October 8, 2020
"One of the missions of TransGriot is to document our history, good bad and indifferent. And it has to be preserved for future generations to know about this," she added.