Georgina Beyer, the world’s first out transgender member of a national parliament, has died at age 65. While her cause of death has not yet been publicly released, she had kidney disease and was in hospice care before her passing.
Beyer underwent gender-affirming surgery in 1984 at the age of 27 and worked as an actor, drag performer, sex worker, and radio host before being elected to political office.
Beyer became the world’s first out transgender mayor in 1995 when she was elected to lead Carterton, a town of about 10,000 people in New Zealand’s North Island. She also was the town’s first female mayor and the first person of Māori native descent to serve as a mayor in the Wairarapa region. She won re-election to the office in 1998.
She resigned as mayor in 2000 after winning election to the nation’s parliament. In that race, she beat a conservative candidate in a traditionally conservative district, much to the surprise of political commentators.
Then-Prime Minister Helen Clark said of Beyer’s victory, “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.”
In her first parliament speech, Beyer mentioned that she was one of several “firsts” elected to the legislative chamber that year. The other firsts included the first-ever Polynesian woman to serve and the first-ever person of the Rastafarian faith.
“I am the first transsexual in New Zealand to be standing in this House of Parliament,” she said in her speech. “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.”
A few months after winning re-election in 2002, she told journalist Steve Dowe, “I get asked questions no other politician would ever have to answer. Regarding the surgery, you know. ‘Did it hurt?’, or, ‘When you have sex now as a woman, is it different to how you had sex as a man?’ Well, honey, obviously.”
During her time in parliament, she voted in favor of sex work legalization, identifying herself as a former sex worker. In a floor speech, she said she had been “brutalized, exploited, and pack raped” while doing sex work as a younger person in Sydney. At the time, she felt she couldn’t turn to the police for help over fears of sex work being illegal. The incident inspired her interest in politics, she said.
Beyer also voted to legalize same-sex unions, supported adding sexual orientation and gender identity to the country’s anti-discrimination laws, and helped win the inclusion of the Māori language in government documents and signage. However, she rankled her Māori supporters when, in 2004, she voted in favor of the government’s legal claim to the coastal shores and ocean beds, denying Māori claims over them.
Three years after retiring from parliament in 2007, she said she had struggled financially since doing so. Nevertheless, she publicly spoke at the first International Conference on LGBT Human Rights in Montreal in 2006, the second one in Copenhagen in 2009, a public event at Oxford University’s debating society in 2018, and the University of Cambridge’s Cambridge Union in October 2018.
In 2020, her work on LGBTQ+ issues helped get her appointed as a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit, a royal honor, as part of the queen’s birthday celebrations.
Beyer said at the time, “I’m proud that [the Queen’s Birthday honor] is another feather in the cap for the rainbow community and the transgender community, but it wouldn’t have happened without the people of Wairarapa. Rural, conservative people who overlooked my colorful past, looked at the substance of me and gave me a shot.”
Beyer was diagnosed with end-stage renal failure in 2013, a condition in which the kidneys can no longer adequately filter waste products from the blood. She required blood dialysis to filter out the waste four times a day, seven days a week until she received a kidney transplant in 2017.
Following her death, New Zealand Prime Minister Chris Hipkins said that Beyer left a “lasting impression on the parliament,” adding, “I certainly think Georgina has blazed a trail that makes it much easier for others to follow.”
Beyer’s friend Scotty Kennedy wrote, “Georgie was surrounded by her nearest and dearest 24/7 over the past week, she accepted what was happening, was cracking jokes and had a twinkle in her eye, right until the final moment.”
“Farewell Georgie,” Kennedy added, “your love, compassion and all that you have done for the Rainbow and many other communities will live on forever.”