Monica Roberts says she is living her best life.
She has a network of dependable friends, is an award-winning blogger, and is very active in her community.
But Roberts, 55, tells theGrio.com that getting to this point took time and courage. Monica was assigned male at birth and says she grew up as a boy. She says, however, she always felt uncomfortable with her gender.
“I basically knew that I wasn’t part of the boys club and in different instances growing up kind of made that quite clear,” Roberts says.
After spending years as a boy, in 1994, Roberts got the strength to transition to a woman. “I never felt more comfortable when I finally started taking hormones and my body developed to be the fabulous woman I am now,” Roberts says.
But Roberts says the reality of being a black trans woman is misunderstsood by many. Hate, she says, can come from all every direction — within her community, her race, politicians, policies and ignorance.
According to the Associated Press, a Texas Senate panel recently passed a ‘North-Carolina-like’ bathroom bill, restricting people’s access to bathrooms. Like NC’s infamous ‘bathroom bill,’ the legislation would require people to only use public bathrooms that “correspond with the sex listed on their birth certificates.”
Black transgenders have their own battle experts say rarely gets attention when discussing transgender rights.
According to the The National Transgender Discrimination Survey, “Injustice at Every Turn: A Look at Black Respondents,” black trans and gender non-conforming people experience the highest levels of discrimination of all transgender people.
“We kind of get the double whammy, of not only being discriminated against because of being transgender, we also have good ol’ fashion racism,” Roberts explains.
Last week, when three trans women were found murdered in New Orleans, the LGBTQ community quickly rallied to speak out against crimes against transgender people. According to the New York City Anti-Violence Project, in the first two months of 2017, seven trans women were murdered.
“These girls who are being murdered will never see a 30th birthday, a 40th birthday, a 50th birthday,” Roberts fumes. “That irritates and pisses me off and especially the silence from our mainstream organizations like the NAACP, like the Congressional Black Caucus, and other mainstream black organizations that black trans women continually show up for when it comes to the issues that impact the entire black community, but we can’t get people to even stand up for us when it’s our time of need.”
Roberts says she is still fighting. After transitioning, she looked within the transgender community and did not see a black voice represented. She started lobbying for transgender rights at the federal, state and local level, a move that would lead her to the White House five times. She began a blog, TransGriot, where she speaks on issues affecting the black transgender community. And Roberts is on the board of Black Transwomen Inc., a non-profit committed to ensuring a safe and affirming environment for trans women.
“I didn’t see people like myself represented in the leadership of these predominately white organizations, and they weren’t talking about our issues at the time that I got involved — and they still aren’t, to an extent,” Roberts says.
Her efforts inspired trans men like Merrick Moses, who was born a girl and decided to transition without the support of family members.
“Often times, people get to suicidal points because they feel that they are in this wasteland of nonacceptance,” Moses says.
According to Moses, that lack of acceptance from the black community often leads black transgenders to seek friendship from outside the black community.
“[Transgenders] think that it’s safer because they perceive that they are seen as who they are, but the double whammy is that you will get thrown of the bus very quick by white trans folks and white trans establishments; it happens over and over and over again,” Moses says. “Because my black life matters just like your black lives matters — and so when we see that coming from our kinfolk, the message that it sends is that ‘black lives matter’ is not true.”
Moses is also advocating for the black transgender community. He is a leader of the Black Trans Advocacy organization. The group works to advance inequities faced in the black and transgender community but is calling for the black community to join in the fight.
“Black trans people have always been at the forefront of liberation for our people,” Moses says. “I will say black queer people period across the board — there has never been a time in our history where black queer people have not stood up.”
Roberts is asking the same.
“It’s disheartening, its upsetting, and it’s really additionally upsetting when you see somebody who looks like you reciting the same talking points of some white fundamentalist preacher,” Roberts says. “The most fundamental part that I need the black community to understand and non-trans folk in the black community: trans women are women. Trans men are men.”
Ashantai Hathaway is a reporter at theGrio. Keep up with her on Twitter @ashantaih83.