2 Jun 2021

Series 2 - Episode 2: Georgina Beyer | Matangireia

From Matangireia, 6:00 am on 2 June 2021

Series Classification: G (General Programmes)

Warning: This article discusses suicide and could be distressing for some people.

Georgina Beyer knows all about breaking barriers  – becoming the first transgender MP in the world. But what is her biggest regret as a Māori MP in Parliament?

“A disaster, an absolute nightmare… it was one of the largest proposed confiscations from Māori, in modern times”.

The former Labour Party MP describes the fallout over the Foreshore and Seabed legislation to Matangireia presenter Scott Campbell.

*The views expressed in this interview are the honestly held opinion of Georgina Beyer

Beyer never shies away from the painful path she took to becoming one of New Zealand’s most trailblazing politicians.

Beyer’s list of achievements are extensive – a drag queen, a sex worker, an actor, an activist, a Mayor, and a MP. 

In fact, when elected in 1999, she was the world’s first transgender Member of Parliament, becoming known for her bold and colourful exterior.

But her story is one of pain, adversity, and fear – and it’s also one of courage and bravery.

Beyer was born George. Her biological father was a policeman who was sent to jail, leaving her mother to fend for herself and two young children.

Raised by her grandparents, until her mother remarried, she describes life in the Beyer household as “mildly well-off”. Her stepfather Colin was a barrister and solicitor.

Georgina Beyer Modelling Portrait

Georgina Beyer Modelling Portrait Photo: Supplied / Georgina Beyer

From around four years old, Beyer started to secretly express her feminine side through theatre, dressing up and acting.

“If I was caught or discovered, or anything like that, it would be dealt with physical punishment, corporal punishment – beatings, hidings, things like that, to beat it out of me.”

At 16 years old, George became Georgina, but the abuse followed her from home to the streets.

As a sex worker, she was confronted daily with physical and verbal abuse from members of the public.

“It drove me to suicide… to attempt suicide on three times, in my young life,” Beyer said, “I had been pack-raped in Sydney in 1979, which was a terrifying, horrifying experience, and the law didn’t defend me.”

Georgina Beyer as a child

Georgina Beyer as a child Photo: Supplied / Georgina Beyer

After working in a gay night club in Auckland, she moved from the glitzy lights of Karangahape Road to conservative back blocks of the Wairarapa.  

It was in Carterton Beyer’s career in politics began.

Working as a part-time radio announcer (alongside Paul Henry, who she later beat in the 1999 General Election), she decided to run for council.

She missed out, but she tried again, and again. Eventually becoming a councillor and, in 1995, the Mayor of Carterton.

“I’m the Mayor, okay, where’s the handbook on this job?” she said, “There isn’t any, but I now was in this position and I thrived in it, absolutely thrived in it.”

Being eloquent and not afraid to speak her mind, Parliament beckoned next.

Standing for the Labour Party in 1999, Beyer won the safe blue seat of Wairarapa with a majority of 3,033 votes. She was the first transgender woman elected to office.

However, in 2004, she faced one of the toughest challenges of her life. To choose her party, or her people.

“Oh, a disaster, an absolute nightmare”.

The Government, under Helen Clark, had just announced the Foreshore and Seabed legislation, effectively removing Māori claims to ownership over beaches and waterways.

The news came as a shock to the Labour Party’s Māori caucus.

“We were all quite taken aback that an announcement had been made, with no consultation with anyone in the Māori caucus.

“At the end of day, it was one of the largest proposed confiscations from Māori in modern times”.

One by one, the Māori caucus “fell into line”. The last three to do so were Beyer, Nanaia Mahuta, and Tariana Turia.

Beyer didn’t hold a Māori constituency and felt she had no mandate from Māori to speak up strongly on their behalf like the rest of her Māori colleagues.

“I was just so torn, but actually I didn’t have to be steeped in tikanga Māori to understand that this was wrong, wrong, wrong.

“I vowed and declared from that time on that I would never be torn between who and what I am as far as my heritage is concerned, and political expediency”.

So, what did she think of the former Prime Minister Helen Clark?

“I was never very close to Helen, at all, really,” Beyer said. 

"I was not within her inner, outer, or extra-outer circle, really. I was just a cannon fodder backbench MP”.

She became further isolated when she asked to abstain from the vote.

“I can almost pinpoint my beginning of the end of my political career in Parliament on that Foreshore and Seabed thing. I felt defeated and I felt impotent.”

But that wasn’t the end.  

She stayed for another two years traveling to Parliaments across the world to talk on gender issues. 

Reflecting on her story today, she’s proud of the road she’s taken. 

“You can’t live in your victim-hood all the time, you can’t wallow in it, you gotta learn from it. Move on and change it and change what created that."

“And I hope I’ve been able to do a bit of that”.

Made with the support of NZ On Air

About the Presenters

Mihingarangi Forbes

Ngāti Paoa, Ngāti Maniapoto

Matangireia, Series 2 Presenters - Maiki Sherman, Scott Campbell & Mihingarangi Forbes

Matangireia, Series 2 Presenters - Maiki Sherman, Scott Campbell & Mihingarangi Forbes Photo: Aotearoa Media Collective

Mihingarangi Forbes is an award-winning broadcaster who is known for her fearless brand of journalism, never shying away from asking the tough questions and tackling the big issues.

As the Māori Affairs reporter for One News in the late 90s Forbes spent much of her time at Parliament reporting on Māori politics. ​During that time she reported extensively on the fortunes of NZ First and their clean sweep of the māori electorates in 1996.

Today Forbes hosts three’s current affairs programme The Hui where she regularly interviews politicians from various parties.​ In 2020 Forbes won Best Presenter News and Current Affairs at the NZTV Awards.

Maiki Sherman

Ngāpuhi, Te Whakatōhea

Maiki Sherman at Parliament

Maiki Sherman at Parliament Photo: Aotearoa Media Collective

Maiki Sherman is an award-winning senior political reporter for TVNZ’s 1news. She’s also the deputy chairperson of Parliament’s press gallery. Having worked across three television networks including Māori Television, Three, and TVNZ, Sherman has developed a reputation for breaking stories and courageous reporting.​

During her career Sherman has covered several general elections, the rise and fall of the Māori Party, Sir John Key’s National government, Hone Harawira’s failed merger with the Internet Party and the ascension of Jacinda Ardern.

In 2014 she showcased her presenting skills when she shared co-hosting duties with Mihingarangi Forbes for Māori Television’s election night coverage.​Sherman is a kōhanga reo and kura kaupapa alumni and a graduate of Te Panekiretanga o Te Reo, the invitation only academy for excellence in te reo Māori. ​

Scott Campbell

Ngāi Te Rangi, Ngāti Pūkenga, Te Arawa

Scott Campbell at Parliament

Scott Campbell at Parliament Photo: Aotearoa Media Collective

Scott Campbell is a former press gallery reporter, communications specialist and political commentator. ​During his time in the gallery Campbell was known for his fair but firm style of journalism.

He began his television career in 2004 under Three’s editor Stephen Parker before being appointed deputy editor in 2010. ​Campbell was based in the press gallery during the controversial seabed and foreshore legislation which saw 20,000 Māori march on Parliament. He reported on the rise of the Māori Party under the co-leadership of Dame Tariana Turia and Sir Pita Sharples. He also covered Don Brash’s tenure as leader of the National Party.​

Campbell left the press gallery in 2010 and is now the chief executive of Campbell Squared, a communications company based in Tauranga. He is a regular commentator for RNZ, The Hui, Newshub Nation and other media outlets.

About the production team

Annabelle Lee-Mather, Producer/Director

Annabelle Lee-Mather (Ngaai Tahu/Ngaati Kahungunu) is an award-winning journalist with 18-years experience in broadcasting. She served as an EP on RNZ’s NZ Wars series. As well as producing The Hui for Three, Annabelle is the series creator and co-producer of The Casketeers.

In 2020 Annabelle was named Editorial Executive of the year at the Voyager Media Awards.

Mihingaarangi Forbes, Producer/Director

Mihingaarangi Forbes (Ngaati Paoa /Ngaati Maniapoto) Mihingaarangi is an award-winning investigative journalist and the presenter of weekly current affairs series The Hui on Three. She began her career in the 90s as a rookie reporter at Te Karere. Since then she’s worked across a range of channels and mediums, with roles on Campbell Live, 20/20, Native Affairs, and as Māori correspondent for RNZ. In 2020 Mihingaarangi was named Best Presenter News and Current Affairs at the New Zealand TV Awards.

Wena Harawira, Executive Producer

Journalist Wena Harawira has a career that spans 4 decades. Harawira was just 19 years old when she became the first wahine to work on TVNZ’s fledgling Māori news service Te Karere alongside the legendary Whai Ngata.​

She went on to become the Executive Producer of news and current affairs at Māori Television where she now leads the newsroom.

Having worked in nearly every aspect of the Māori media industry, Harawira is much admired not only for her leadership and journalism but also for the many reporters she has mentored and inspired.​

in 2017 Harawira was honoured with Te Tohu a Tanara Whairiri Kitawhiti Ngata for lifetime achievement at Ngā Kupu Ora awards.

About Aotearoa Media Collective

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AMC is a boutique Māori production house that specialises in indigenous storytelling and content. Founded in 2019, by journalists Mihingaarangi Forbes and Annabelle Lee-Mather AMC has created NZ Wars: Stories of Waitara (RNZ) and The Hui (Three) with Great Southern Television as well as independently producing Matangireia (RNZ) and Coastwatchers: Operation Pacific (TVNZ).

Made with the support of NZ On Air

Made with the support of NZ On Air Photo: NZ On Air