Queer history is incomplete without Black history. That’s why we’re chronicling the stories and lives of influential Black queer figures throughout the month of February. Below, we take a look at the origins and accomplishments of Monica Roberts, a pioneering Black trans journalist.

Storytelling has been a cornerstone of the Black tradition since before the trans-Atlantic slave trade. It was (and still is) a way to harbor memory, pass on tradition from generation to generation, and honor the histories that make up Black life.

In West Africa, the oral historians who curated these stories were called “griots.” Originating from the West African Mande Empire of Mali, the role was exceedingly important in communities, as griots were the main preservers of cultural history. They remembered special events, attended political meetings, put their stories to music, and were often called upon to resolve disputes. On New Year’s Day 2006, trans activist and blogger Monica Roberts created TransGriot, a blog dedicated to chronicling the stories of Black trans people. First introduced to the world in 2004 as a column in a Louisville, Kentucky LGBTQ+ newspaper called The Letter, TransGriot was born out of the lack of online resources focused on the issues that mattered to Black trans people and other trans people of color.

Growing up in segregated Houston, Texas during the ‘70s, Roberts was acutely aware of the lack of Black trans stories in the public eye from an early age. She transitioned in 1994 during her time as a gate agent at the Houston airport, and said that coming out was made easier by the sheer number of queer coworkers she had at her airline. As she began to transition physically, Roberts also attended local trans support groups — but was disappointed by the lack of people of color in attendance.

“…while national and regional trans conferences have been around for decades, like Fantasia Fair, The Texas T Party, California Dreaming, [the International Foundation for Gender Education, or IFGE] conference and Southern Comfort,” Roberts said in an interview with Bitch Media, “they weren’t diverse because of several factors, like cost and the need to travel to get to them.”

Roberts nevertheless continued to be involved with organizations like IFGE and Southern Comfort, noting that in these spaces helped her in establishing lifelong friends. In 1999, Roberts helped found the National Transgender Advocacy Coalition and served as the political director on its inaugural board from through 2002.

While living in Louisville, Roberts served on the board of the city’s Fairness Campaign and its political action committee, and later went on to organize a conference called Transsistahs-Transbrothas in 2005 and 2006. When TransGriot was founded in 2006, Roberts had already begun writing about Black trans issues, and critiquing the ways in which white queer people consciously marginalized Black trans people and other trans people of color.

Roberts recognized that racism and sexism were serious issues within queer spaces, especially among cisgender gay and lesbian communities. “Trans folk are the canary in the civil rights coal mine,” Roberts said at the National LGBTQ Task Force Creating Change Conference this January, where she received the Susan J Hyde Award for Longevity in the Movement. In her acceptance speech, Roberts reflected on how when she got her start as an activist in 1998, there was an overwhelming attitude within the queer community that adding trans issues to LGBTQ+ legislation would worsen its chances for implementation. Roberts herself has dealt with harassment from trans-exclusionary radical feminists (TERFS), and even believes that they are to blame for TransGriot being temporarily taken down in February 2019.



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