Gareth Watkins fondly revisits Georgina Beyer’s reflections on the most significant moments in her professional career.

In 2013 I was privileged to record over five hours of audio interviews with Georgina about her life and career. In tribute to Georgina, here are some lightly edited quotations from those recordings.

Georgina was born in Wellington in 1957.  From her late teens, she worked as a showgirl, stripper, and sex worker: “When you get introduced into street life it can be a quite brutal arena and you either shape up or ship out. But there was a common bond because we all felt that we were out on these margins. I felt these people had an incredible pride, that despite disapproval they were tall and proud and they walked it honey, and they were going to be who they are.”


In the 1980s, Georgina moved into acting: “I took to performing like a duck to water, which I guess in later life proved to be the beginnings of a very handy transferable skill. And boy, have I transferred that skill over several careers!”

In 1995, Georgina made international headlines by becoming the world’s first openly transgender Mayor.  And in 1999 she became the world’s first openly transgender Member of Parliament – something that not only drew widespread applause but also some highly intrusive media coverage. Georgina was interviewed by 60 Minutes, “[I] was asked the most ridiculous, personal, intimate questions. You know: ‘So after you had your sex change what was the first time you had sex like?’ No other person in public office really has to tolerate [this], but I do. Why? You’re testing my character when I’ve proved again and again by just my work and what I do and my conduct, that I’m just like any other person who’s a Mayor or an MP.”

Georgina also talked about some memorable moments with opposition MPs John Banks, Tony Ryall, and others: “Brian Neeson was another MP who always seemed to be offended that I breathed the same air as they did. I can remember one day we were passing each other in the underground escalators under the Beehive. And whenever he used to come past me, I’d get this grim look and he’d sort of go flush in the cheeks a little bit, sort of outraged that I was there. And one day I just turned around and said, ‘Look, Brian, why don’t you get that heated roller out of your arse and lighten up a bit?’”

During her time in Parliament, Georgina was involved with some significant law changes. In 2003 she spoke during the final debate on the Prostitution Reform Bill: “I had no idea what I was going to say, and I got up and I just asked the rhetorical question ‘Why do I support this Bill?’ And I just went off into this three-and-a-half minutes of the most fabulous parliamentary theatre that you’ve seen: I support this Bill for all the prostitutes who I’ve ever known who were dead before the age of twenty. I support this Bill because I cannot stand looking at the hypocrisy of a country that cannot look itself in the [mirror]; and on and on I went in this powerful, considered, straight from the heart. When I finished my speech there was this absolute silence in the Chamber. You could have heard a pin drop as everyone sort of took a breath, and then this thunderous ovation, absolutely thunderous ovation. Most people in the gallery rose to their feet. It was the most incredible sort of ovation that a girl’s ever had.”

A year later, during the heated debate around civil unions, Georgina famously stared down members of Destiny Church during the fiery Enough is Enough rally at Parliament. She described this as “one of the proudest moments of my parliamentary life.”

Georgina resigned from Parliament in 2007 but would return numerous times to witness significant legislation, like marriage equality, being passed into law. In 2019 I asked her if she had some words for people in the rainbow community fifty years from now.  She replied, “I hope you live a future that we, at this point in time, dreamed of achieving.”

Photo | Alex Efimoff.