* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Monica Roberts, aka TransGriot, was a pioneering journalist and tireless advocate for trans rights
Andrea Jenkins is the vice president of Minneapolis City Council and the first Black openly transgender woman to have been elected to public office in the United States
"I come from a long line of historians in my family. I'm also a voracious reader. I recalled something that I'd read about the griots of Western Africa, the storytellers who pass on the oral history and traditions of their people. Some griots can recite up to 500 years of their people's history from memory. It is said that when a griot dies, a library has burned to the ground.”
Monica Katrice Roberts (1962-2020)
Monica Roberts, also known as the TransGriot has become a Transcestor. So many beautiful tributes have been shared about her extraordinary life on social media. Many tears have been shed by myself and others.
Wherever you found transgender advocacy, you wouldn’t have to look far to see that Monica was involved.
She was co-founder of the National Trans Advocacy Coalition. She was a board member of the Trans People of Color Coalition and of the Trans United Fund, an organization committed to supporting trans and gender-non-conforming candidates to run for public office.
She tirelessly advocated for trans-inclusive non-discrimination protections at a time when trans people were often written off.
Our lives paralleled each other’s in many ways.
According to Monica’s Wikipedia page, she began her transition in 1993, in her hometown of Houston, Texas. This was the same year I began my own gender journey.
We both loved to play and watch tennis - Serena Williams was our mutual G.O.A.T (Greatest Of All Time). For about six days every year we were the same age. Monica’s birthdate was May 4th, 1962 and mine is May 10th, 1961.
Last year the two of us shared the stage in New York City at World Pride with 24 other trans, non-binary and bisexual luminaries as Sara Ramirez serenaded the crowd with the iconic LGBT+ anthem, ‘Somewhere Over The Rainbow’. It was a moment I’ll never forget.
Most people however will always remember Monica as a journalist. TransGriot, her newspaper column that became a must-read blog, covered every aspect of trans issues and provided a model for the mainstream media of how to report on the lives and tragic murders of trans folk.
Most importantly, though, she extensively and expertly covered issues impacting Black and brown trans people when few would acknowledge our existence, let alone get the facts right.
She also particularly loved our youngest members in the community and they loved her back, often calling her Aunty Moni.
Monica’s vocabulary was enormous and her knowledge of trans history was encyclopaedic.
She was the first person I heard talk about the Compton Cafeteria riots, where trans women in San Francisco stood up against police harassment in 1966. This was three years before the Stonewall riots that are usually credited with starting the modern fight for LGBT+ rights in the United States.
When I was elected to the Minneapolis City Council, Monica congratulated me. She also pointed out that, while I was the first out African American trans woman elected to public office, Althea Garrison of Boston was elected to the Massachusetts House of Representatives in 1992 and was subsequently outed by the Boston Herald.
Monica was highly opinionated, but backed her opinions with facts. Her strategic thinking and political acumen made her a constant figure in local, state and national politics.
Monica and I were both Tauruses. I remember a Taurus horoscope that said, “You have a story to tell to anyone who stops to talk to you. Some might even say that you've perfected the art of storytelling. This is a skill that will take you far.”
Monica truly possessed that skill. With her passing, a university has burned to the ground.