Wairarapa’s beloved Georgina Beyer, the world’s first transgender mayor and Member of Parliament, has died, aged 65.
Beyer’s friends announced yesterday “with the heaviest of hearts” that the national treasure had finally succumbed after a long battle with kidney failure.
“Georgie was surrounded by her nearest and dearest. She accepted what was happening, was cracking jokes and had a twinkle in her eye, right until the final moments.”
At Beyer’s request there will be no funeral service, although a memorial service will be held at a later date.
Born in Wellington in 1957, Beyer rose to prominence in local and central government in what many considered an unlikely place – Wairarapa.
After her election to Carterton District Council in 1993, Beyer won a landslide victory in the mayoral election in 1995 and was re-elected
as Carterton’s mayor in 1998.
Her election as the first-ever transgender mayor made headlines around the world.
Wairarapa stood behind Beyer again the following year when she was nominated to be Labour’s parliamentary candidate for the region, running against broadcaster [and co-worker] Paul Henry, who stood for National.
Her 1999 win secured the previously safe National seat with a 3000-vote majority, which represented the biggest swing in that general election – and again the international media came calling.
Beyer was re-elected in 2002 before becoming a list MP in 2005. She retired from Parliament in 2007.
Throughout her trailblazing political career she was a tireless advocate for LGBTQ+ rights.
In her maiden parliamentary speech she famously said: “I am the first transsexual in New Zealand to be standing in this House of Parliament. “This is not a first only in New Zealand, ladies and gentlemen, but also in the world.
“This is a historic moment. We need to acknowledge that this county of ours leads the way in so many aspects.”
Reflecting on her political career, Beyer said she had achieved everything she had set out to do, including ensuring the survival of Wairarapa Hospital, bringing government services back to heartland Wairarapa, and passing the Prostitution Reform and Civil Unions Acts.
In 2020, those achievements and her LGBTIQA+ advocacy were recognised when she was made a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit [MNZM].
Beyer was plagued by ill health in later years, and was diagnosed with chronic kidney failure in 2013.
In 2017 she received a kidney donated by a Carterton man.
The announcement of her death yesterday saw an outpouring of grief from Wairarapa figures.
Wairarapa MP Kieran McAnulty said while Beyer was well-known for her ‘firsts’, she was also a beloved family member, friend, rainbow advocate and a political “powerhouse”.
“She used to babysit me back when she worked with my mother in Carterton. She was always kind and supportive. And always laughing and having fun.
“We have lost a great one.”
Carterton District Council said it is mourning the loss of one of the region’s leaders.
Carterton Mayor Ron Mark said Beyer was respected, selected, and elected on merit.
“Wairarapa folk can be proud that they were the first in the world to do that, and see past ethnicity and sexuality, and choose a person solely on their merits.
“Wairarapa, a supposedly conservative place, chose her.”
He said Beyer successfully shaped people’s hearts and minds and made each of us confront our prejudices.
Denise MacKenzie, who campaigned alongside Beyer as a Labour list MP in 2002, said she was the reason she entered politics.
“As much as anything, it was an opportunity to support her. She was an extraordinary human being. Very complex, with the biggest heart you could imagine.
“The fact that she stood up when she did as a transgender person for public office was incredibly brave.”
Former Masterton mayors Lyn Patterson and Bob Francis echoed McKenzie’s sentiment, saying Beyer had touched the lives of many, particularly those in the rainbow community.
“I spoke to her a few days ago,” Patterson said.
“She was typically Georgina. She was Georgina right to the end.”
Carterton District Council will be flying its flag at half-mast today in recognition of Beyer’s passing and said an extraordinary meeting would be held tomorrow to consider new road names to mark her considerable contribution to the district.