Born George Bertrand in 1957 in Wellington, Māori of Te Āti Awa, Ngāti Mutunga, Ngāti Raukawa, and Ngāti Porou descent, Beyer spent her early childhood on her grandparents' farm in Taranaki. Later she shifted to Wellington to live with her mother, who had subsequently married Colin Beyer, a prominent lawyer and businessman. Shortly after leaving school at Wellington's Onslow College, Beyer discovered Wellington's gay scene, and at the age of 17 realised she was transgender.
Night clubs and Sydney
Adopting the name Georgina, she became a stripper and prostitute working in nightclubs and on the street. She eventually gravitated to Kings Cross, Sydney, probably Australasia's most notorious red-light district. There she got into a car with four men who brutally raped her. This incident apparently persuaded her to seek to change the course of her life.
Return to New Zealand
Returning to New Zealand she continued to work as a stripper and drag queen, but also began seeking work as an Actor with gradually increasing success, culminating in a Gofta award nomination for "Jewel's Darl" in 1987. In 1984 she finally underwent sexual reassignment surgery.
After shifting to Carterton, in the Wairarapa, she worked as a radio host.
She also began to take an interest in local politics, first winning election to a local school board, and subsequently being elected mayor of Carterton in 1995, serving in that role until 2000. This made her the world's first transsexual mayor.
In 1999 she surprised the political commentators by beating National's Paul Henry to win the Wairarapa seat for Labour and become the world's first transsexual MP.
Traditionally, newly elected MPs have the floor for 10 minutes to introduce themselves to their new colleagues. An excerpt from her speech follows:
- Mr. Speaker, I can't help but mention the number of firsts that are in this Parliament. Our first Rastafarian… 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.
Shortly afterwards, she said:
- I was quoted once as saying that 'This was the stallion that became a gelding, and now she's a mayor.'* I suppose I do have to say that I have now found myself to be a Member! So I have come full circle, so to speak.
*In New Zealand, the word "mayor" is pronounced like "mare".
In June 2004, Beyer spoke at the UniQ: Queer Students Association national conference at Waikato University, Hamilton, where in a moving, emotional speech she reiterated her support for the Civil Union Bill, although did not believe that gay marriage would be legal in New Zealand for at least 20 years, and expressed fear that gay and lesbian New Zealanders were facing the beginning of a turbulent time whereby their rights gained since homosexual law reform in 1986 would be questioned and attacked. She also broke down while referring to the internal battle within herself that she had to face dealing with being a member of the New Zealand Parliament, which she described as the world's oldest "true" democracy, and being Māori, when it came to the Seabed and foreshore legislation of May 2004.
Human Rights and Gender Identity
In 2004, a bill in Beyer's name was drawn out of the ballot for member's bills, and Introduced to Parliament. The Bill was intended to include "gender identity" as a ground under the Human Rights Act 1993, and thereby prohibit discrimination against people because of their gender identity. The Bill had been Labour Party policy in the 1999 and 2002 election manifestos. The Bill attracted controversy, but Beyer always maintained that the Bill was simply ensuring basic human rights for transgendered people, and that it was only clarifying what either was or should have been the law already. In 2006 the acting Solicitor-General wrote a legal opinion that indicated that transgendered people were already within the ambit of the Human Rights Act, and Beyer was able to withdraw her Bill. She said that this was legal authority that was "good enough for her".
In early 2004, Beyer announced that she would not be standing in the 2005 elections, citing what she saw as the unpleasant atmosphere of national politics. Tensions with her own electorate committee, which opposed Beyer's views on the seabed and foreshore, may also have contributed to the decision. In September, however, Beyer reconsidered her decision to leave Parliament, and announced that she would be seeking a position on the Labour list (but not recontesting the Wairarapa seat). A large rally by the Destiny Church the previous month had been a factor in this decision, with Beyer believing that the message of such rallies must continue to be opposed.
Beyer resigned from parliament effective from 15 February 2007, and gave her valedictory speech to Parliament on Valentine's Day, 14 February 2007. The vacant list position was filled by Lesley Soper.
Beyer was a keynote speaker at the International Conference on LGBT Human Rights in Montreal in 2006.
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- Wairarapa Pride [sound recording] [HUHU WP001], Carterton, [N.Z.]: Masterton International Relations Committee and HUHU Music, 2002
- Beyer's contribution is a rendition of George Gershwin's Summertime (from Porgy and Bess)
- Beyer, Georgina & Casey, Cathy (1999), Change for the better: the story of Georgina Beyer, Auckland, [N.Z.]: Random House, ISBN 1-869-41371-7
- Goldson, Annie (dir. & prod.); Wells, Peter (dir.) & Madigan, Catherine (co-prod.) (2003), Georgie girl [videorecording], Auckland, [N.Z.]: Roadshow Entertainment (NZ) Ltd.
- Hutchings, Jessica & Aspin, Clive (eds.) (2007), Sexuality and the stories of indigenous people, Wellington, [N.Z.]: Huia, ISBN 9781869692773
- Beyer's contribution is entitled: "Of two spirits."