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Georgina Beyer: Leaving the goldfish bowl

Thu 25 Mar 2004 In: Features

Georgina Beyer MPs on both sides of the House have acknowledged that Georgina Beyer is a very, very good MP - they point to her effectiveness in parliamentary select committees where the real work is done. Her electorate remains strongly behind her. But she's decided to call it quits, to get her life back, as she tells Georgina Beyer, the world's first elected transsexual member of Parliament, has announced that she will not be standing for re-election and will leave Parliament at the end of this term. The 46 year old MP for the rural Wairarapa electorate, had previously told the Wairarapa Times-Age, six months after her election, that she wanted to be in Parliament ‘for a decent period of time… a maximum of three terms is my goal.' While her time in Parliament was always time-limited, Beyer is bowing out after her second Parliamentary term. “One of the reasons is that my obligations to my conservative electorate often restrained me in my ability to comment and act upon gay, lesbian and transgender issues,” commented Beyer about her decision. “I don't really like the way parliamentary life can constrict you. The goldfish bowl effect that goes along with it also didn't appeal to me. It doesn't make me feel like a better person.” This is the second time Beyer has announced her departure from Parliament. Prior to the 2002 election, Beyer publicly stated that she would not be standing for re-election. “But I was asked to reconsider,” she said, “by friends, by members of my electorate, by the Party. I thought to myself that perhaps I was not thinking widely enough, perhaps I'm being hasty here.” Beyer stood again and was re-elected in the 2002 election. “There are some things that I am very proud of doing. As a local MP, I particularly enjoy the engagement with my electorate, which people are inclined to think of as the unglamorous aspect of the job... I am proud of being able to deliver out to the Wairarapa what we, as a party, promised. I arrived with dignity and I hope to leave with my dignity and my credibility intact by having kept our promises.” She was also pleased with the passing of the Prostitution Reform Bill. “My contribution to it was only to help and assist Tim Barnett in its passage through Parliament. But I am very proud to have been associated with it and my conscience rests easy on the bill.” However, she has also mentioned publicly that she wanted to cross the floor and vote against the anti-smoking legislation, but she was refused by the party. While evidencing a fondness for ‘the coalface of politics', as she puts it, and an intense pride in her ability to represent her electorate, Beyer has also acknowledged the toll Parliamentary work and her position has taken of her private life. “Parliament is an all-consuming job. There is no privacy. Strangers feel as though they have the liberty to approach you at any time and tell you the good, the bad, and the ugly. That is part of the job. But there is no privacy . You just can't get up and slouch down to the shops because you are always a representative, you are always on show.” Beyer has been public property since her election as the Mayor of Carterton in 1995 and serving the previous two years as a councillor. Her election to the Mayoralty was globally reported, putting the small town in the Wairarapa and herself very firmly on the map. “It has definitely changed my ability to foster and form relationships. Friends have actually diminished over the years. It is very hard to maintain close friendships. You are busy 24/7. You can't download. You have to be very aware of what you are saying. Then if I go to dinner at a friend's house and they have other guests, the conversation inevitably turns to me, and what I've been doing, and what I think, and by eleven o'clock I find I've talked of nothing else. This is not good for a relationship with friends.” Beyer's decision to leave Parliament does not involve any discrimination she has felt with regard to her transgender status. “I challenge you to go through Hansard and find any sexual discrimination against me on any level there,” she says. “I have even mentioned in Parliament that I am grateful for the lack of overt insults.” She also does not feel that there has been any behind-the-scenes prejudice. “I have been able to function as any other member – quite contrary to what Chris Carter experienced after his election a decade ago. I think the New Zealand people and Parliament have come a long way. We should be very proud of ourselves as a country, a government and a people.” But Beyer also acknowledges that she represents ‘the acceptable face of a transgender.' “But I don't really want to sail on being the embodiment of PC – Maori, woman, and transgender.” Beyer's career plans after Parliament involve her relationship with the gay, lesbian and transgender communities. She is intensely aware of both her ‘practical' use and her ‘symbolic' import. “I would not mind pursuing some international opportunities, going on the global speaking circuit. It is an opportunity to be inspirational, to advocate and represent New Zealand's achievement in the gay, lesbian and transgender areas.” “While I might get a life back after leaving Parliament, my representation of the gay, lesbian and transgendered communities is not over,” she affirms. She also reveals that she raised the possibility of being a list MP with the Prime Minister, Helen Clark. “The only way I could have resolved the conflicted situation where I was representing a conservative rural electorate and also seen as a representative of the gay, lesbian and transgender communities was by becoming a list MP which would have freed me up to advocate for a number of minority groups.' “But it wasn't going to happen,” she said. Beyer would like to remain useful to the gay, lesbian and transgender communities. “In the past they have been understandably demanding of me, but for a number of reasons I have been unable to deliver. I'd like an ongoing position of relevance. It is perhaps up to them to decide where I can have the most use, where my practical skills and symbolic value can have the most impact.” Georgina Beyer will remain in Parliament until the 2005 General Election. She is currently the Chairperson of Social Services Committee, and a member of Law and Order Committee. - 25th March 2004    


First published: Thursday, 25th March 2004 - 12:00pm

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