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Appeal to boost Beyer’s farewell

Loved ones of Wairarapa icon Georgina Beyer are appealing to the community she loved to make her final farewell “as fabulous as Georgie was”.

A group of close friends and executors of Beyer’s estate are organising and fundraising for a memorial event for the political trailblazer, to be held at Wellington’s Embassy Theatre on July 18.

Beyer made history as the world’s first openly transgender person elected to public office — serving as Mayor of Carterton and later as MP for Wairarapa. In her political career, she was a fierce advocate for Maori, LGBTQ+ and the sex worker community — and was instrumental in creating the Civil Union and Prostitution Reform Acts.

Beyer died on March 6, aged 65, after a long battle with kidney disease.

Though it was Beyer’s wish to have a private funeral service, her friends wanted to hold a public memorial to “celebrate Georgina’s outstanding achievements” — and give friends and colleagues “who didn’t get to say goodbye” a chance to share memories and stories.

Friend Helena Coolen said the memorial would feature performances, “celebrity guest speakers”, and audio/visual presentations commemorating the significant milestones in her career: From her time as an actor and drag performer, to her service to Carterton, to her addresses to the Oxford and Cambridge Unions.

Coolen said the event was “completely dependent on fundraising”, and friends have set up a Givealittle page to help cover the associated costs.

“We don’t want it to be a dowdy, overly formal event, with a lot of long speeches and people sitting around crying,” Coolen said.

“We want it to be a celebration of an amazing person — the Life and Times of Georgina Beyer.

“It’ll be quite spectacular and a bit glammed-up. We don’t want to give away too much, but we’ve got an amazing line-up of performers – several of whom are flying from overseas, at no cost to us, in Georgie’s honour.

“We hope people, including in Wairarapa, can dig deep and support this event — so we can make it as fabulous as Georgie was.”

Of all her stellar achievements, the memories Beyer held dearest were of her time in Wairarapa, Coolen said.

Though Carterton in the 90s was considered a hotbed of “rednecks and homophobes”, Coolen recalls Beyer won hearts with her straight-talking personality, wicked sense of humour, and unwavering dedication to people of all backgrounds – politics aside.

“She was elected by the people – she was there to represent them, whether or not she agreed with them.

“Georgie turned up to every single event. If it was someone’s birthday, she’d rock up with a card and some flowers. She enjoyed visiting the farmers down on the back-blocks, or having a drink with them at the local pub.

“She loved that Wairarapa people were honest and authentic. To them, she was ‘a good bloke’ – she loved that.

“She didn’t do political correctness. But she changed a lot of people’s minds about the Rainbow community.”

Activism on behalf of Rainbow Kiwis was Beyer’s greatest passion. Her work included a Treaty of Waitangi claim that challenged the lack of health resources for takatapui Maori [LGBTQ+ Maori] — now carried on by fellow former Labour MP Louisa Wall.

One of the audio-visuals played at the memorial will be a video postcard she filmed, despite her failing health, to be screened at the World Pride festival.

“Everything she did for the community was at great personal cost. She was always in the public eye, but never had the financial backing. She never had a life partner,” Coolen said.

“But she did it because she lived for human rights – and Rainbow rights were human rights.”

Coolen recalled Beyer’s extraordinary courage – including the face of debilitating illness. Above all, she remembers her “vivacious and outgoing” friend who “told it like it was” and would often call just to see how she was.

“We just miss our friend – every day. She’s left a big hole in our lives.”

    More information about Georgina Beyer’s memorial, and how to donate, can be found at givealittle.co.nz. Entry to the event is free, but space is limited – so tickets must be booked via eventfinda.co.nz

Erin Kavanagh-Hall
Erin Kavanagh-Hall
Erin Kavanagh-Hall is the editor of the Wairarapa Midweek. She has been a journalist for the past 10 years, and has a keen interest in arts, culture, social issues, and community justice.

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