The pioneering transgender activist and journalist Monica Roberts, who spent her career covering Black trans issues, died earlier this week.
She was 58.
Police initially said they were investigating Roberts' death as a hit-and-run because she was found dead in the parking lot of her Houston apartment complex. On Friday, however, Jodi Silva, a spokesperson for the Houston Police Department told NBC News that there were "no signs of obvious trauma" on Roberts' body. There are also neither witnesses nor surveillance footage, according to police, who said "the investigation is pending autopsy results."
The news of Roberts’ death shocked members and allies of the LGBTQ community, who remember her as a trailblazer in trans advocacy and media.
"She was an activist. She was a pioneer. She was a blogger. She was a writer. She was an author. She was a motivational speaker," Kendra Walker of Pride Houston told NBC affiliate KPRC-TV. "When you lose someone like that, the pain is immeasurable. How do you replace that? How do you replace your No. 1 fighter?"
Ricardo Martinez, CEO of statewide LGBTQ group Equality Texas, said Roberts was "a force" and a "fearless, unapologetic Black trans woman who fought courageously for everyone’s human rights."
"The ferocity, authenticity and passion she brought to our movement was unmatched and her legacy will live on for decades to come," he said in a statement.
Roberts was best known for her blog TransGriot, in which since 2006 she covered the transgender community, a group largely ignored by mainstream media outlets until only recently. Other advocates and those familiar with her work spoke of the impact she had by documenting the trans community and shaping how it is portrayed in the media.
"She told the stories about Black trans people that weren’t told elsewhere,” Sarah Kate Ellis, president and CEO of the LGBTQ media advocacy group GLAAD, said in a statement. “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."
Roberts was one of the first people to start covering and tracking the deaths of transgender people nationwide, a practice that has since been adopted by several LGBTQ civil rights organizations. She noticed that slain trans people would often be misgendered and deadnamed in police reports.
“I got tired of them being disrespected in death,” Roberts told the Daily Beast in an interview last year.
The Human Rights Campaign, the nation's largest LGBTQ civil rights organization, has continued her work by tracking the deaths of trans people who were killed by violent means. The organization recently reported that in 2020, these killings have reached an all-time high.
Since Roberts started her blog, visibility for trans people in both the media and politics had swelled, along with a recognition of the high rate at which trans people of color are killed.
“For decades, Monica has been a fierce leader — bringing light to the injustice transgender people face, especially Black transgender women,” Human Rights Campaign President Alphonso David said in a statement. “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.”
In an interview with Out magazine last year, Roberts acknowledged the impact of her life's work.
“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,” Roberts said. “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.”
On social media, an outpouring of both grief and admiration followed the news of Roberts' death from readers of her blog, young trans journalists, celebrities and others on whom her work had an impact.