Image: Georgina Beyer MNZM JP by Nick Cuthell, oil on canvas, 2018
In Aotearoa (New Zealand), tributes are pouring in for the world’s first openly transgender MP, Georgina Beyer (Te Ati Awa, Ngāti Mutunga, Ngāti Raukawa and Ngāti Porou), who passed away in a Wellington hospice surrounded by loved ones on March 6. She was 65 years old.
Ms Beyer, or Georgie as she was known to friends and family, was a proud Māori woman, fearless activist, former actor, drag performer, sex worker, and radio host.
Breaking the news via Facebook on Monday, close friend Scotty Kennedy wrote, “she accepted what was happening, was cracking jokes and had a twinkle in her eye, right until the final moment.”
“Farewell Georgie, your love, compassion, and all that you have done for the Rainbow and many other communities will live on for ever.
“Rest in peace our dear friend.”
In 1995 Beyer was elected mayor of Carterton, making her the world’s first openly transgender mayor, before becoming a member of parliament in 1999. During her seven years, Beyer fought for Māori rights, same-sex civil unions, and helped pass the landmark 2003 Prostitution Reform Act, which decriminalised sex work.
Beyer was also a vocal advocate for the use of the Māori Language in government and public life, and key to the passage of the Māori Language Act 2003, which established the Māori Language Commission and provided funding and support for the promotion and preservation of te reo Māori.
Former New Zealand prime minister Helen Clark said Ms Beyer “showed tremendous courage” stepping into public life and “the public warmed to her honesty”.
“Her election speaks volumes about both Georgina’s personal skills and dedication to community service and the district’s willingness to accept her on her merits without discrimination,” Clark said.
NZ Parliament – Georgina Beyer; Rainbow Voices interview: