6 Mar 2023

World's first openly transgender mayor and MP, Georgina Beyer, has died

4:20 pm on 6 March 2023
Georgina Beyer, Matangireia Series 2

Georgina Beyer Photo: Aotearoa Media Collective

The world's first openly transgender mayor and MP, Georgina Beyer (Te Āti Awa, Ngāti Mutunga, Ngāti Raukawa, and Ngāti Porou), has died after a long illness.

Friends of the ground-breaking politician and activist say she died at 3.30pm on Monday.

They said she had been surrounded by her close friends and family over the past week and that she had accepted what was happening and cracking jokes right until her final moments.

At Beyer's request there will be no funeral service, but a memorial service will be held at a later date.

Navigating 'through the mire of political life'

Elected to the Carterton District Council in 1993, Beyer won a landslide victory in the Carterton mayoral election in 1995 and was re-elected in 1998.

Nominated by Labour as its candidate in Wairarapa for the 1999 election, she won the seat from broadcaster Paul Henry with the biggest swing in New Zealand that year and took her place as a backbencher in the Labour-Alliance coalition government.

She was re-elected in 2002 and was a list MP between 2005 and 2007 when she retired from Parliament.

Her election as the world's first transgender mayor and MP attracted worldwide attention and she was interviewed by global news organisations such as CNN, the BBC and Time magazine.

She also told her life story in the book A Change for the Better.

After her political career she struggled to find work.

She was diagnosed with chronic kidney disease in 2013, for which she needed daily dialysis.

However, in 2014 she had another crack at politics, joining the Mana Party and standing in the Te Tai Tonga electorate.

Standing for Mana was her way of making amends to Māori after being forced to vote for the Foreshore and Seabed Act during her time as an MP, she said.

Her bid for Te Tai Tonga was unsuccessful.

- Listen to a 2021 interview with Beyer here.

In the 2019 documentary Rainbow Voices of New Zealand, to mark the reopening of Parliament's Rainbow Room, Beyer said she had no idea when she was elected she was the world's first openly trans MP.

Beyer said she wanted to "pay homage to those who may have been transgender but who never have been out".

"As the first transsexual to serve in a Parliament, I had no mentors, I had to navigate my way myself through the mire of political life, I guess."

In her first term, two matters came up "that really made me dive into the thick of it" - the Civil Unions Act and Prostitution Reform Act, she said.

In 2020, she wasmade a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit in the Queen's Birthday Honours for services to the LGBTQI community.

'She broke barriers before anybody thought it was possible'

Labour's Rainbow Caucus chairperson and Northcote MP Shanan Halbert said the Rainbow Caucus was deeply saddened by the news.

"She was a trailblazer in the rainbow community for providing a voice and leadership to our community as the World's first openly transgender MP," Halbert wrote on Facebook.

"She was a champion of human rights and gender identity, and will be greatly missed, not only in the rainbow community, but across New Zealand.

"Kua hinga he totara i te wao nui a Tane."

A post on the Rainbow Labour Facebook page reads: "A personal hero to many, Georgina was a true warrior with a unique sense of humour and a passion for giving back to her communities. She broke barriers before anybody thought it was possible. She was strong willed and backed herself at every moment in her life."

Prime Minister Chris Hipkins said Beyer left a pioneering legacy.

"I do want to extend my condolences to all those that Georgina was important and special to... I certainly think that Georgina has blazed a trail that has made it much easier for others to follow."

Beyer always stood up for the marginalised and stigmatised, Labour minister Grant Robertson said.

"I will always remember her courage. I was with her on the steps of Parliament when Brian Tamaki and his mob arrived to oppose civil unions. And then followed her when she went to confront them. With a mixture of awe and genuine fear for her safety I saw the very best of Georgina that day.

"Thank you Georgie for your life of creativity, drama, activism and aroha. Rest easy now."

Auckland councillor Richard Hills remembers a time Beyer surprised the audience of the Auckland Pride gala with an impromptu performance of Whitney Houston's 'Greatest Love of All'.

"We were in awe, we stood &!cheered [sic], many of us were in tears feeling honoured to be in her presence," he said on Twitter.

"She did so much for the Labour movement, for Māori, for the rights of rainbow communities, for the protection and safety of sex workers and for so many people who needed a voice. She was their voice.

"Thank you Georgina, thank you for carving a path for so many of us.

"Rest in Peace, I'm just sorry it is so much earlier than you deserve after all you've done for so many."

Youth rainbow organisation InsideOUT said as the world's first openly transgender/whakawahine mayor and MP, Beyer was "a trailblazer who stood as a shining beacon for and tireless advocate of Aotearoa's rainbow communities".

"Her impact and legacy cannot be understated.

"We know that this news will rock many in our community and we stand with you all in our shared grief and sense of loss."

Rainbow mental health organisation OutLine said it was deeply saddened by Beyer's passing.

"We extend our aroha to her friends, whānau and communities, all of whom will be feeling her loss deeply.

"As Aotearoa's rainbow communities come together to grieve and celebrate Georgina's life, many of us may find we need some extra support. OutLine is here to help if you need to talk."