• Justine McLellan

Georgina Beyer, the Political Trailblazer

Maori politician Georgina Beyer, is the world’s first openly trans member of an elected government. Born in New Zealand in 1957, Georgina was assigned male at birth. As a teenager, she wanted to be an actor and go to drama school, but she was too young, so instead she “became a groupie at Circa theatre”. She then got a job at the Royal Oak Hotel, whose ‘Bistro Bar’ was, according to Beyer, “populated by an eclectic mix of life, everything from drag queens to t******* to prostitutes – male and female– sailors, it was quite a sort of rough bar, really, but full of all of this color of life”. Next to the Bistro bar was ‘Tavern Bar’, which Beyer recalls as “virtually exclusively a gay bar, gay men and women, but probably more predominately gay men. In fact t******* weren’t particularly welcome inside the bar, but [they] did go in there from time to time.” It is in these spaces that Georgina was introduced to queer culture.

After transitioning at 16, Georgina had trouble finding civilian employment, so she turned to sex work. She explains that her experience with the police:

“I got plucked once, as they call it, for frequenting with felonious intent, deemed as a rogue and a vagabond. And that was sort of a fairly standard kind of arrest-worthy thing of behavior because t******* at least, anyhow, they found it very difficult to be able to charge them with soliciting and prostitution I guess, because they didn’t quite know how to fit men who were dressed up as women who were selling themselves, and it was soliciting that was illegal, not so much prostitution as such. And so we would get picked up occasionally and we just sort of figured that it was our 50 buck fine. Well, you know, that’s a cheap tax really. And the ignominy I suppose of having to spend a weekend in the cells, which was unpleasant, and we were treated quite nastily I guess by the police who weren’t always friendly to us.

[…] [Y]ou can imagine a t***** who may turn up on a Friday night in the cells certainly wouldn’t be given anything for shaving. You’d be wearing the clothes you’d gone out in on Friday night. You’d be put in with men and so you ran the risk of any kind of abuse and violence and sexual violence that might occur over the weekend during that. You’d look like crap when you turned up in front of the judge on Monday morning quite often. But it was just par for the course. It was just the way it was.

Sometimes some queens were particularly targeted by some police who just had this innate hatred of such people and would just fall short of being incredibly brutal to them, but very mean and nasty and threatening. And yeah, it was really sort of unpleasant, but that was just part of what you had to deal with in those days at that time and it was no use squealing to anyone for help me! help me! because you wouldn’t get it. And you just tolerated it, I guess, at the time. These days of course I’d throw the book at them and that wouldn’t be allowed to occur.”

She later worked as a stripper at two clubs, the Purple Onion and the Club Exotic:

some of the strippers used to do spots at either club, so it wasn’t like we were exclusive to one club or the other, and so we’d run across and we’d bring traffic to a stop. So [she’d] finish doing a spot up at The Club Exotic, race downstairs in my bra and panties and perhaps with a fabulous cape on, and sort of fly across Vivian Street to get to The Onion to fill in and do a spot because they might have been short of girls that night, and do that. You know, and all that sort of added to the color of the street. I wasn’t the only one that did it, lots of them did.”

She then moved to Carterton, in the Wairarapa, where she worked as a radio host. In 1995, she ran for mayor and was elected, becoming the world’s first transgender mayor. In 1999, Beyer was selected as the Labour Party's candidate for the Wairarapa electorate. She won by a 3,033-vote majority, and became the world’s first trans MP. In her introductory speech in parliament, she expressed pride at New Zealand’s progressive democracy:

“I can't help but mention the number of firsts that are in this Parliament. Our first Rastafarian [Nándor Tánczos]… our first Polynesian woman… and yes, I have to say it, I guess, I am the first transsexual in New Zealand to be standing in this House of Parliament. This is a first not only in New Zealand, ladies and gentlemen, but also in the world. This is an historic moment. We need to acknowledge that this country of ours leads the way in so many aspects. We have led the way for women getting the vote. We have led the way in the past, and I hope we will do so again in the future in social policy and certainly in human rights.”

She retired from politics in 1997, but remains an advocate for LGBTQ rights.


Pride NZ's "Interview with Georgina Beyer"

©2019 by Kaytlin Bailey and Justine McLellan.