HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- A day after news broke of Texas transgender rights advocate Monica Roberts' death, Eyewitness News has learned that she died just outside of her apartment earlier this week.
An initial police report indicated she may have been hit by a car, but now, friends and family say she died of natural causes.
"A lot of family members are shocked and devastated to what has happened," said Monica's younger brother Kevin Roberts. "We're just really trying to take it all in, it's really been a shock."
Roberts mother told ABC13 on Friday that she had not been feeling well in recent days. Her mother said Roberts had been short of breath, but brushed off serious health concerns. Family members had encouraged her to get a COVID-19 test, but are not certain if that happened.
"It was like our anchor has now been lifted," said Mariah Moore, a staff member with the Transgender Law Center who considered Roberts a mentor. "We don't have that foundation. The glue of the movement has now been removed, and we are like 'What do we do? Who do we go to?'"
For more than 20 years, Roberts blazed a trail in the fight for transgender rights. She advocated for equality, legal rights, and wrote a very popular blog. Her work was so transformative that her death brought statements from advocates and elected leaders from around the country.
"It's really been a shock, just to see the love and support she has received. She really has touched so many lives in the time she has been fighting for transgender rights," said Kevin. "It's just unbelievable what's going on."
On Thursday, tributes poured in, remembering Roberts for giving a voice to Black transgender people and transgender people of color through her advocacy work and her blog, TransGriot. Her insight and support for the community surpassed Texas as she was recognized worldwide.
Roberts worked closely with the Houston Police Department regarding the treatment of LGBTQ+ victims in criminal cases, and spent much of her time lobbying for transgender rights at the federal, state and local levels.
"Monica Roberts was an icon and a trailblazing voice for transgender rights, both in her home state of Texas and around the country," said Alphonso David, president of the Human Rights Campaign. "We are deeply saddened to learn of her passing, and offer our most heartfelt condolences to her friends, family, and loved ones. For decades, Monica has been a fierce leader - bringing light to the injustice transgender people face, especially Black transgender women. 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."
Mayor Sylvester Turner reflected on Roberts' work and impact on Houston, even invoking memories of his interactions with her when he was a state legislator. He stated:
"From my time in the Texas Legislature until now as mayor, Monica walked every hall of government with professionalism, grace, and toughness to ensure transgender individuals and everyone in the LGBTQIA+ community would not be forgotten or overlooked.She was one of the original board members of the Mayor's LGBTQ Advisory Board and a powerful voice for transgender rights.Each time I saw Monica at events, you could not miss her confident stature, and she was not shy to call things out directly.In May 2019, I was honored to introduce and present her with the Barbara Jordan Breaking Barriers Award.Monica was a pioneer in every sense of the word. Through her blog, TransGriot, she impacted countless lives and wrote the trans communities' stories that needed to be told.Today, we pause to remember the impact Monica has made in our city. I will personally miss her and am grateful for the friendship we developed over the years.Houston embraces everyone, no matter where they come from, their background and continues to be a place of hope and opportunity.I extend my condolences to those close to Monica, and we will continue to march, fight, and speak up for equal rights of all."