Georgina Beyer was the first trans member of Parliament anywhere in the world, though she says she is the first Out trans person. She started showing transgender behaviour aged four, and transitioned aged 16. She was unemployed, and the benefits office told her she could not get benefit unless she put her trousers back on. So she became a sex worker. She hated it from her first “client” to her last. She had been brought up middle class and wanted to reach her potential, but there was a barrier to trans people. As a sex worker she was in a twilight world, constantly in danger. Clients were often hypocrites pretending to be straight.
She still wanted to be an actor but after five years she escaped, and worked in a drag show in a gay club. “I sold my arse to get my moneymaker.” The New Zealand health service now performs SRS but not enough. In 1979, she was working in a strip club and when it closed she went to Sydney. She worked in a bar, her first legitimate job, and after four months she was gang-raped. The police told the Maori drag queen she asked for it. She thought of suicide.
“Fortunately I got angry. I got a fire in my belly that anybody who had to endure anything like that deserves justice, including a transgender person like me.” She got into TV, and made a film about a TS in a platonic relationship, presenting trans characters in the most realistic way made to that date, but the public censor cancelled the whole series because of her film. Eventually it got her a best actress nomination in the NZ Film and TV Awards. She was recognised as a woman.
She got typecast into trans roles, eg trans rape victim. Being visible, she reduced prejudice. Queers became less threatening. She moved to Carterton north east of Wellington, and started to teach drama on a life skills course: they were unemployed young people, and she got them to create a show to express their view of the world, and gained confidence. Expressing their frustration was fulfilling.
She ran the course from the community centre, and in 1991 the finance minister of the National party cut 25% from state benefits, which was devastating for the most vulnerable in the community, which has caused deprivation and dependency including homelessness even now. They got a caravan which they used to house homeless people. She kept being made the mouthpiece, talking with the local council, and in 1992 she stood for that council. She only ran with the intention of raising the issues, and missed out by 14 votes. Then she stood in a by-election, when she got half the vote.
She took her duties seriously. She was the first Maori on the council, and was the person who was appointed to liaise with the local Maori iwi, though she knew no Maori beyond Kia-ora (“hello”). In 1995 she ran for mayor. She was told she was popular, and she did not know she was being set up. She won with a good majority. She loved it. It’s about being genuine and straight-up. Doing Anzac day, she found her acting experience helped. She had the mana (Maori word- see Barry’s comment below). She engaged people as young as nine in speaking to the council. She got the local school to elect their own council and arrange a meeting. She preferred to lead by consensus without votes.
She was mayor until 1999 when she stood for parliament for the Labour party. Formerly it had been a National party stronghold. She got a 32% swing and a 3000 majority. She suffered impostor syndrome but got on with it. No-one mentored her, she learned for herself. She helped push through the Civil Union Act and prostitution law reform, to provide human rights, health and safety for the sex workers. It was a world leading piece of legislation. The debates were divisive and horrible, across the nation. It was dehumanising. The haters were getting self-righteous, including 8000 Christians who marched on Parliament shouting “Enough is Enough”. Georgina stared them down, holding a rainbow flag. There were a hundred children on that march and she was shouting at them “Why do you hate us so much? What are you teaching your children?”
It is wrong to use children like that, to deny the rights of others.
“I have been very fortunate. I could not be more proud to participate in my country. I thank New Zealand for that. They could look beyond my colourful past.” It inspired other trans people and minorities. After, trans people were elected to the Italian and Polish parliaments. People are afraid of diversity, and she blames religion. Christians quote Leviticus, and that countermands the commands of Christ. If we can be who we are, we can contribute to our society rather than being a burden, but we commit suicide because of the oppression.
Why New Zealand? Our isolation, she says, and people escaping the British class system for an egalitarian society. You can make anything out of nothing. The treaty of Waitangi was very important: Maori were more equal than other indigenous populations. It was hard to build the economy. New Zealand is a caring society. Rural folk can spot a fake, and spotted her talent.
Photo by Montrealais.