Wednesday, 6 June 2018

Around the World in Another 80 Gays : Part 17) Kiwi Connections

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 employee.

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.

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