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Farewell, Georgie Girl

Mon 19 Feb 2007 In: Features View at NDHA

“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 the world. This is an historic moment.” – Georgina Beyer's maiden speech to Parliament, 1999. Judith Tizard, Georgina Beyer and Brad Schmidt Labour's term in Government, now in its eighth year and counting, has seen relatively unprecedented advances in equality for LGBT communities. The visibility of Georgina Beyer has not only contributed to legislative progress but also progress in social attitude, that (usually) being the primary driving force of whether a Government has the mandate to make wide-reaching changes. The most iconic image I have of Beyer is her infamous clarion call from the steps of Parliament to whatever humanity the Christian extremists might have before the Civil Union Bill was passed. But who would have guessed eight years ago that one of the iconic images Beyer would have behind her as she leaves Parliament was as a guest in ‘Dancing With The Stars'? Without her own presence as an MP, I wonder whether any transgender person would have ever been invited on the show, aiming as it does to the most middle of grounds. It is this precedent that makes Beyer truly a legend: locally, and internationally. New Zealand has been blessed to have the first transgender MP and Mayor in the world, particularly fitting for a country that was also the first to give women the right to vote. After an upbringing that has made her such a leader and given her an incredible ability to communicate across creeds, Beyer has also had a television and radio career that is no doubt bound to flourish again on the back of ‘Stars' and also in Dunedin's Fortune Theatre's upcoming ‘Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks' (opens 23rd February). I talk with the handsome Douglas Kamo about his role as a gay dancer alongside the married woman that Beyer plays in the two-person show. Kamo is here to apparently ‘remind Georgina of her lines', and the affection between the two is evident. The play will no doubt be intriguing, and equally intriguing is ‘Girl', a film in its draft stages that will reportedly chronicle Beyer's amazing life. While her Carterton Mayoral incumbency was what really drew attention, when Beyer first entered Parliament with a defeat of National's Paul Henry, he was really a perfect example of the right-wing, chauvinist adversity she was going to continue overcoming and the scale of attention she was so wonderfully to receive. When at her valedictory function in Parliament Beyer is thanked for ‘dragging Carterton into the twentieth century', her strength is alluded to in a hilarious aside that she probably indeed dragged it first into the nineteenth. As toasts are raised by former Mayor of South Wairarapa John Reid, her Carterton successor Martin Tankersley, Speaker Margaret Wilson, Labour and even National MPs alike, Minister Michael Cullen notes that Beyer's maiden speech to the House ‘charmed many of those… who did not expect to be charmed', before wryly making comparison the House's loss of a member – paraphrasing another magnificent LGBT icon to say that ‘losing one member is bad enough…' where Beyer picks up with trademark wit and to great applause, ‘losing two is carelessness!' Tim Barnett notes succinctly that Beyer was ‘always there… always strong… and always vocal'; Jeremy Lambert of the NZAF so rightly acknowledging Beyer's life is such a role model to a gay community still inequal in its social and legal standing that she can be proudly responsible for encouraging positive choices and affirmation that can only contribute to a healthy subculture. But it is two speeches that stand out the most. Firstly, and not in order of importance, a Labour Party Catholic steps forward to speak on behalf of what is presumably a minority for once. I ponder whether he is also going to speak on behalf of his institution; but it is charming that he does not – it is a spirituality that is so often hidden by bigoted doctrine: the man humbly and sincerely tells Beyer that she is beautiful, as indeed she glows tonight, and praises Beyer for giving ‘what has been an enormous achievement, and a lesson to all of us'. It is a stark moment of showing how far Beyer has pushed the envelope, but also a reminder of just how far it can be pushed without the world imploding as so often predicted. But secondly, and most importantly, it is transgender Southerner and close friend of Beyer's Jacqui Grant, now infamous for her innovative sock-knitting machine as much as her political presence, who speaks for perhaps the most important people Beyer represents. Grant thanks Beyer ‘for showing ordinary people that we are ordinary people as well'. “Some members of the media at the time,' Georgina relates, acknowledging her vaccilating desire to leave Parliament, now concrete, ‘[they told me], you've just committed political suicide! They were very silent after the 2002 election where not only did I get re-elected, but I doubled my majority… so take from, a new political tactic has now been born.' ‘I wondered, given my success in local government, whether I could push the barrow a little further and make it into the New Zealand House of Representatives as a member of Parliament. I am a transsexual. My achievements in local government had been historic internationally as the world's first transsexual to have been elected as a mayor. That was then followed up by a tremendous amount of support in my election into Parliament, which was also historic on the same scale—the first transsexual in the world to be elected to a parliament. I am very pleased and proud to say that I am now no longer the only transsexual in the world to serve in a parliament. When people have been asking me recently whether I have made a difference, from that count alone I think "yes." And it is not just me; it is the nature and character of our country and its fairness, in my belief, that we can look at a person and put aside some of the foibles and human frailties that occur in all or most of us at some time in our life, no matter what our beginnings have been.' -Beyer's valedictory speech to the House, 2007. Farewell Georgina Beyer MP, and thanks – ka kite ano, a te wa, arohanui. Without being unctuous, you are a living legend, and I take this opportunity to say on behalf of New Zealand that we are privileged to have you among us. Brad Schmidt - 19th February 2007    

Credit: Brad Schmidt

First published: Monday, 19th February 2007 - 12:00pm

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