The world’s first transgender mayor and MP, Georgina Beyer, has died after a long illness.
Beyer has been remembered as a trailblazer and a fighter, and her friends say she was displaying her much-loved humour right until the end.
Entertainer, trailblazing politician, actor, and fearless activist, there was never a dull moment for Beyer.
“Georgina has blazed a trail that’s made it much easier for others to follow,” said Prime Minister Chris Hipkins on Monday.
Beyer’s adult life was a very public one. She was a singer, a drag queen, and a sex worker who turned to politics.
She became the country’s first transgender mayor in 1995 when she was voted in by the Wairarapa town of Carterton.
Four years later, she won the Wairarapa electorate seat for Labour against National’s candidate and broadcaster Paul Henry – and made history again.
“Yes, I have to say it I guess, the first transsexual in New Zealand to be standing in the House of Parliament, not only in New Zealand ladies and gentlemen but also in the world. This is a historic moment.”
Beyer was born in Wellington and underwent surgery for sex reassignment in 1984. She said it was her good friend, the flamboyant Carmen, who paved the way for her to live her own life.
A documentary about Beyer, called Georgie Girl, was made in 2001.
In Parliament, she fought ugly battles over prostitution law reform and civil unions.
“I will not accept that children of same-sex couples go to school today and get questioned about the value of the family from which they come,” she said.
She had this message for the Destiny Church which marched on Parliament against the Civil Union Bill: “Your hatred is totally intolerable. How dare you use the cloak of Christianity when you are imparting to your children prejudice and discrimination toward people like me.”
Beyer spent seven years in Parliament, surprising even herself.
“My majorities increased each time and whether or not you want to believe it, it was the people at the end of the day, the people who voted for me, who persuaded me to stay on.”
In 2005, she became a List MP and resigned from Parliament in 2007.
“It was difficult at the time. But she was robust enough to take one step at a time, to make progress that we needed for that community. I just hope that those of us who are here now are just able to continue in her footsteps,” said Shanan Halbert, chair of Labour’s Rainbow caucus.
Beyer recently campaigned for live organ donation and in 2017 had a kidney transplant after four years of end-stage renal failure.
“There are no words that can cover the range of emotions you feel when someone makes a gift like that.”
In 2020, she was celebrated in the Queens Birthday Honours and as recently as July last year, after her appearance on The Masked Singer, Beyer was upbeat about her health battles.
“I’ve had a few issues in the last couple of weeks, but we’re getting over that and moving forward, so I’m okay – tickety boo.”
She died in hospice on Monday afternoon. Her family says she was surrounded by her nearest and dearest 24/7 over the past week, and she was cracking jokes and had a twinkle in her eye right till the final moments.
Beyer was 65.