[Content warning: Brief discussion of sexual assault and suicidal thoughts.]

Georgina Beyer was the world’s first openly trans mayor, among many, many other things. She died earlier this month, but will hold forever an important place in New Zealand (and world) history.

Georgina grew up around the Wellington region - and Auckland, briefly - before moving to Sydney. In a 2018 interview, she told The Spinoff about her transition in the 70s: “When I started transitioning, I quickly realised that it was a cruel world for people like us. I had to go down avenues I would never have considered.” She saw no other option but to become a sex worker, and said that a 1979 sexual assault by a group of men led to her eventual involvement in politics. The trauma of the attack left her depressed and suicidal for months, but also gave her “a real fire” in her belly to fight injustice.

Georgina returned to Wellington and performed as a singer and a drag queen, but she also landed acting roles so that other people could see “people like us not as caricatures, but real people with real lives.” She played a trans prostitute in Jewel’s Darl, winning a national award for best female performance for the television drama in 1987.

After moving to Carterton in the then-very-rural Wairarapa, she ran for a local school board and the district council, and worked as a radio host before running for mayor in 1995 - a race she won. This made her the first female mayor of Carterton, the first Māori mayor anywhere in the Wairarapa, and the first openly transgender mayor anywhere in the world. Three years later, she won the mayoralty again with a massive majority.

As prime ministers and poets alike later commented, Georgina had a jovial honesty that commanded respect from anyone - regardless of their views. When she was presented with a Queen’s Birthday honour in 2020, she reflected that it was “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 colourful past, looked at the substance of me and gave me a shot.”

Soon after her second mayoral victory, Georgina was asked to run for the Labour Party in the 1999 election, which she did, winning the Wairarapa electorate against National candidate and fellow broadcaster Paul Henry. The upset victory made international headlines, and made her the world’s first transgender Member of Parliament. She didn’t always have an easy time as an MP, but she did set in stone a legacy of national significance.

“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 an interview for the award-winning 2001 documentary Georgie Girl, she told filmmakers, “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."

She was pivotal in helping pass historic legislation during her time in Parliament, and easily won re-election in her electorate in 2002. Her speech in Parliament on her experiences as a sex worker reportedly convinced at least three MPs to switch their votes on the Prostitution Reform Act 2003, successfully decriminalising prostitution by a single vote. She also helped pass the Māori Language Act 2003, which created the Māori Language Commission to revitalise and protect te reo Māori for generations to come.

She supported the Civil Union Act 2004, bringing Aotearoa one step closer to legalising same-sex marriage. After her death, Grant Robertson shared that he “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.”

Her relationship with Labour fractured during the foreshore and seabed debacle of 2004, where she felt torn between her “heritage” and “political expediency”. She decided to resign the following year, but changed her mind following a hate-filled Destiny Church rally. She eventually resigned in 2007.

Georgina struggled financially and with her health after her time in Parliament, but still devoted much of her time to advocating for those who needed it most. In 2008 she led efforts to address homophobia in the Wairarapa after a man was killed in Featherston Park in what was believed to be a hate crime. She spoke at conferences and at Oxford and Cambridge, and told The Spinoff in 2018 that she was inspired by the queer youth of today. “I have spent the better part of my life trying to make things better for this generation. My faith now lies with this younger generation to stand on my shoulders, just as I stood on the shoulders of those who went before me. I’ve done my bit to move the needle. Now it’s your turn.”

She also gave words of wisdom to any young people struggling with their identity: “You are going to need people to give you moral support, who think the same as you and know what you are going through. Don’t be afraid, there are far too many young trans people who are dying through suicide because they feel like this world isn’t built for them anymore. It is, baby. It is.”

I have to confess, I only really learnt about Georgina in 2020 when she was named in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List - the same year I truly came out to myself.

Curious, I read about her, watched her give interviews, and read her book. Enthralled in her story, I felt a strong sense of pride and comfort. But also of wonder, at why we hadn’t celebrated her legacy; her fierceness, her humour, her honesty, and her kindness.

When I heard of her death, I cried and cried. So much is now possible because of everything that Georgina did. She lived such a full life. Yet, like too many other trans legends, she passed too soon.

Reading reflections from her colleagues and contemporaries, I was struck by how it seemed that one of the biggest impacts she had on the people of Aotearoa was truly just by being her. She was not only the first trans mayor and MP, but for many people she was the first openly trans person they’d ever met. Shaking hands, cracking jokes, being on TV screens and newspapers, Georgina showed many people that trans people aren’t some scary dark cloud of ideology threatening anyone’s way of life. We’re just people.

I have so many words to say, but I feel that any words I want to say, a poem by essa may ranapiri will say better.


It is, baby. It is.

for Georgina

my nan messaged me this morning

saying that she thought the Maaori word for trans


started with an f

in her own clumsy way I like to think she was tapping into

the whakapapa connection between the people of the Moana

fa’afafine being the word she was grasping for

a Samoan one

it brings me back to this one time

I was on my way to the dairy in

Hamilton East

and a group of young Pasifika kids called out to me

Good morning, fa’afafine!

despite not being Samoan I’ve never felt more seen

and it’s in moments like this

when my nan is trying to find words in a language

she once spurned

when kids find kindness for a stranger in a dress

that yeah hell yeah whaea

this world is made for us

I didn’t know you were Raukawa

until I looked it up today

your wikipedia page already in past tense

but like of course you were a Raukawa wa

we’re born to light fires

and it was you who set a blaze

inside me

of I could be whoever the fuck I want to be

and it’ll be okay

when I found out you had passed

(on social media because of course it was social media)

I put on Pokarekare Ana

(a song my nan used to sing to me when I couldn’t sleep as a kid)

and had an ugly cry in the lounge


my partner and I went to Motu Rakiraki

and swam in the awa

the water travelling out before us

and behind

as you are and will continue to be


essa may ranapiri (Ngaati Raukawa, Te Arawa, Ngaati Pukeko, Clan Gunn | they/them) is a takataapui poet who lives on Ngaati Wairere whenua on the island of Te Ika a Maaui. Author of ransack (VUP, 2019) and ECHIDNA (THWUP, 2022). They have a great love for language, LAND BACK and hot chips. They will write until they're dead.

This article first appeared in Issue 5, 2023.
Posted 3:26pm Sunday 26th March 2023 by Elliot Weir.