TransGriot Monica Roberts On Black Trans History
Monica Roberts, aka the TransGriot (pronounced “gree-oh”), is a native Houstonian and a trailblazing award-winning trans community leader.
She has lobbied since 1998 for trans human rights protections at the federal, state, and local levels in Kentucky and Texas. In 2006 she became the third African-American trans person and the first African-American Texan to receive the IFGE Trinity Award, the transgender community’s highest meritorious service award. She was named to the inaugural Trans 100 List and honored with the Monica Roberts Advocacy Award by Black Transmen, Inc. (BTMI) in March 2013.
Monica was a founding member of the National Transgender Advocacy Coalition and served as the political director on its inaugural board from 1999-2002. She also served on the board of Louisville, KY’s Fairness Campaign and its political action committee, C-FAIR. Monica organized the 2005 and 2006 Transsistahs-Transbrothas Conference that took place in Louisville and participated in the first-ever trans-themed panel discussions at Netroots Nation and OUT on the Hill in 2012.
She has participated in countless panel discussions, town halls, and keynote speaking engagements at various colleges, groups, and conferences over the years. In January 2006 she founded the award-winning blog, TransGriot.
Her writing about trans issues from an Afrocentric perspective has appeared in Ebony.com, Loop21.com, Transadvocate, The Huffington Post, Racialicious, Feministe, Global Comment, The Bilerico Project, Elixher, What Tami Said, and Womanist Musings.
What inspired the creation of the Annual TransGriot African-American Trans History Quiz?
What inspired it was me being pissed off about a Black LGBT history quiz on a Black SGL blog that was light to nonexistent on the history of the Black trans community. Since one of my blog’s missions is to chronicle the history of Black transpeople, I decided to create one, and my readers loved it.
Why do you think highlighting this history is so important?
Because it is vitally important for any marginalized group to know their history, especially one that has the challenges of building community like the trans community does. We were encouraged by the medical gatekeepers from the ’50s-’80s to hide, isolate ourselves, and never reveal who we are to cis society. So when you are transitioning and don’t have–to borrow Laverne Cox’s words, “possibility models”–to point to while at the same time you’re undergoing relentless demonization, that’s not good for your self-esteem as a trans individual. And it’s also important because for the last six decades the trans narrative has been told from the white trans community perspective.
What do you think people learn when they take this quiz?
They learn that Black trans people have been just as active in shaping this community and that we have done some amazing and groundbreaking things. Up until a few years ago we assumed in Trans World that we’d never had a transperson elected to a state legislature. I received a tip from Janet Mock that led me to the discovery of the story of Boston’s Althea Garrison, who in 1992 became the first transperson ever to be elected to a state legislature. Wilmer Broadnax, a leading gospel singer of the ’40s-’70s, was a transman. The Dewey’s Lunch Counter sit-in in Philadelphia was not only the first national protest about gender issues, but was jumped off by African-American gender variant people.
The first quiz came out in 2011. Since then what have been some new developments and trends in the world of African-American trans movers and shakers?
That the transmen have really stepped it up in not only owning their power, but also in stepping up to lead and also claim their history. Thanks to Carter Brown and BTMI, I discovered Wilmer Broadnax’s story. Black trans history is also being made in the present time. There is plenty for us to do and accomplish.
Anything else you want to say?
Black trans history is not only Black community and trans community history, but it is our contribution to the American and world historical record. We have much to be proud of and have people in our trans ranks who will continue to write new chapters in it.