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Beyer, Georgina (b. 1957)  
 
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As the first open person in New Zealand to be elected to the offices of mayor and Member of Parliament, Georgina Beyer has evinced courage, humor, and personal honesty.

Though a career in politics seemed an unlikely, if not impossible, choice for a Maori woman who began life as a farmboy and worked as a drag queen, stripper, and prostitute, Beyer's deep concern for both her community and for the working farmers she grew up with earned her the trust of her constituents and the votes to win elections.

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However, prejudice runs deep, and, in spite of her accomplishments, Beyer continued to face and when she retired from Parliament. Denied her party's support on the national political scene and finding it difficult to obtain employment, Beyer is still a respected speaker on the human rights circuit.

Beyer was born George Bertrand in November 1957 in Wellington, New Zealand's capital city. Shortly after her birth, her father, Jack Bertrand, abandoned the family, and Beyer spent her early years living with her mother Noeline's parents in Taranaki, a traditionally Maori region on New Zealand's North Island.

George was four years old when she returned to Wellington to live with her mother and new stepfather, attorney Colin Beyer. She had already discovered the joys of dressing up in women's clothes, and, by the time she was thirteen, began to feel that her true identity was female. Though this longing was kept secret at first, it did find occasional expression, for example, when Beyer cut school to go to the movies dressed in girl's clothes.

Isolated and confused in her emerging gender identity, Beyer's epiphany came in her late teens when she attended her first drag show. Overjoyed to find she was not alone, she began to work in the gay nightclubs of Wellington, singing and dancing in drag.

Like many young queers with few employment options, she also began the dangerous work of prostitution. While discovering a new home in the gay community, Beyer was also aware of violent homophobia in the larger society.

In the late 1970s, she was beaten and gang-raped by four men, a crime she dared not even report, since her low self-esteem led her to believe that she deserved such treatment. This devastating experience became a positive turning point in her life as she ultimately grew to believe that no one should feel so worthless that they consented to abuse. This growing self-acceptance would lead Beyer to a life in public service.

In 1984, Beyer underwent sexual reassignment surgery, officially becoming the woman Georgina Beyer.

Having developed confidence and theatrical skills on the stages of the Wellington bars, she moved to Auckland, New Zealand's largest city and cultural center. There she began to work as a successful television and film actor and radio personality, obtaining roles in such popular New Zealand series as Jewel Darl, Inside Straight, and Close to Home, in which she played both a man and a woman.

During the late 1980s, Beyer decided on another career change. Tired of being typecast as a drag queen or a lady of the night, she determined to pursue a career that could help improve conditions for rural children such as she had been. She moved south again to the farming community of Carterton in the Wairarapa region to study to be a social worker.

Though Carterton was a conservative area, and though Beyer was always open about her gender identity, her sincerity and hard work soon made her a beloved member of the community. In an interview with The Independent, Beyer said, "Children would say to me, 'Are you that queer that's moved into town?' I would say 'Yes, I'm a transsexual. I used to be a man, but I'm a woman now.'"

In 1992, encouraged by colleagues and friends, Beyer ran for a seat on the Carterton District Council, losing by only fourteen votes. In 1993, she ran again and won, and in 1995, she was elected mayor of the town, the first openly transgender mayor in the world.

Beyer financed her mayoral campaign by returning to the stage, playing a transgender sheep shearer in a play in Auckland. She loved serving the community as mayor and was re-elected in 1998 with a 90 percent majority.

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Georgina Beyer addressing the Asia/Pacific plenary session of the International Conference on LGBT Human Rights in Montreal in 2006.
  
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