Previously : The Canary Islands gave Spain the world’s first openly lgbt winners of national pageants – Miss Spain, 32) Patricia Rodriguez (b.1990), and Mr Spain, 33) Daniel Rodriguez (1993) – as well as Spain’s first lgbt regional president, 34) Jerónimo Saavedra (b.1936), and the first transgender member of a regional parliament, 35) Carla Antonelli (b.1959), but the first transgender member of a national parliament was 36) Georgina Beyer (b.1957).
36) Georgina Beyer entered politics in the 1990s, being elected to the local
school board and then the Carterton District Council in 1993. In 1995 she
campaigned as the world’s first openly transgender candidate to mayoral office,
being elected Mayor of Carterton. Georgina’s rise to national politics is
remarkable even for a non-transgendered politician. Within seven years of first
being elected to a local council Georgina became a member of the New Zealand
parliament, in a traditionally conservative seat.
In parliament Georgina
Beyer did not shy away from espousing the rights of the lgbt community and
sexual issues. In her maiden speech she made reference to New Zealand’s place
in history by her being the first openly transgender elected member of any
national parliament and urged politicians to follow this up by being a world
leader in both gender and indigenous rights.
One area in which Georgina
had an influence was in the understanding of prostitution. The New Zealand
parliament had been investigating ways to decriminalise prostitution since the
1990s. The debates for the Prostitution Reform Bill 2003 were something in
which Georgina was not afraid to speak about her own experience as a sex worker
in the 1970s.
The defining traumatic incident
which led Georgina to realise there was a real need for change was in 1974 when
she was a sex worker and was gang-raped. Like many women in that era Georgina
felt powerless to do anything about it. Society was very much of the opinion
that “women like her should expect abuse as part of their career choice”, as it
was often expressed. For Georgina that was an unacceptable attitude and she
brought her views and experiences into the parliamentary debate. For many
politicians their eyes were opened to reveal the life of a prostitute about
which they had never known and their voting was shaped by it. The bill was
passed and became law in June 2003, decriminalising prostitution, preventing
exploitation and giving sex workers the same legal rights as every other
The other central issue to
Georgina’s parliamentary career was the rights of indigenous groups. She has
Maori heritage through both parents, though as a child she was less interested
in that aspect of her life than in her gender identity. Her parents in the
1950s were typical in New Zealand in that they played down their indigenous
heritage in favour of their white European heritage.
This European attitude was
encouraged by the Establishment, the politicians and bureaucrats who ran the
country and were white, mostly of British ancestry. The old colonial model of
society was still dominant in New Zealand and many aspects of indigenous and
Maori culture were being forgotten, dismissed or ignored. This extended to the
traditional Maori gender and sexual identities.
Most of the Pacific
islands have gender identities that often seem complex to non-Pacific people.
Gender communities like those of the Tongan leiti which I mentioned several
weeks ago don’t use the definitions that the lgbt communities in the West often
confine themselves to. As well as being transgender Georgina Beyer has
identified herself as takatapui, a Maori word originally applied to the devoted
partner of someone of the same gender, and in modern times to a member of the
western-style lgbt community in general.
Pacific gender and sexual
identities have survived the enforced European labels from the colonial period
and have seen a resurgence in visibility and pride in recent years. This has
led to much more scholarship into pre-colonial identity that deals with all
aspects of the modern indigenous Maori culture.
One of the leading
publications which covers a huge amount of research dealing with Maori culture
and heritage is called AlterNative. It’s founding editor was one of Georgina
Beyer’s former school teachers, 37)
Dr. Clive Aspin.
Clive Aspin was a novice
teacher at Papatoetoe High School in Auckland when the teenaged Georgina Beyer
enrolled as a student. On leaving teaching in 1992 Clive moved into health care
and specialises in the impact HIV/AIDS has had, and still has, on the Maori
nation. At the same time he has been encouraging the community to regain its
distinct heritage and culture.
As part of his work with
HIV/AIDS in the Maori community Clive encourages those of traditional gender
variance to take pride in their own heritage, hence his involvement with
AlterNative. This publication covers a wide range of research topics from
education to philosophy, and from health to entertainment. Clive has
contributed articles to this and other academic journals on the history of
Maori sexuality and gender.
The recognition of gender
diversity in the Maori nation is revealed in one of the earliest, and still one
of the most popular, love stories in Maori legend. The story finds its way into
song, books and plays, and features the love between Himenoa and 38) Tutenekai.
Next time :
We sing of love and war.