I went “rather unwillingly” to Pflag’s August meeting, as did John Wesley to his life changing Aldersgate meeting with Moravian friends in 1738. I have no idea what it was that made for Wesley’s unwillingness, but in my case I have developed a 48 year old aversion for Monday night meetings.
But Pflag have been inviting me to their meetings for almost 2 years, and the prospect of an address by Georgina Beyer was an incentive I could not resist.
Born George Bertrand in 1957 in Wellington, of part Maori blood of Te Ati Awa, Ngati Mutunga, Ngati Raukawa and Ngati Porou descent, young George spent an early childhood in Taranaki, later shifted back to Wellington to live with his mother who had married Colin Beyer, prominent lawyer and businessman; student at Onslow College, Wellington, who after leaving school discovered the gay scene and there came to the full realization that he was transexual; stripper, drag queen and prostitute in Wellington and Kings Cross, Sydney under the new name of Georgina; underwent sexual reassignment surgery 1984; Gofta winning actor and radio host in Carterton; elected to Carterton Dist. Council and then Mayor of Carterton 1995; elected Labour MP for Carterton 1999, and now high enough on Labour’s list to be virtually assured of a seat in the next Parliament; very glamorous contestant in TvOne's “Dancing with the Stars” 2005; international celebrity, in constant demand as a speaker in important forums..
All of the above can be easily assembled on the Google search engine - indeed, there is enough information on Georgina on a variety of websites to fill a book, and what is missing there can most certainly be gleaned from her biography, “Change for the Better” 1999.
I thought I had a better than passing knowledge of the political Beyer, and I had followed with some admiration her rise to celebrity status. But turning up at the meeting I was totally unprepared for the sheer force of her personal magnetism, her almost regal bearing, and her ability to hold a goodly crowd spellbound for more than an hour. Here was one arresting and commanding woman with, I sense, the potential to yet take her to higher positions of influence in public life. A friend at the meeting was equally impressed, and wrote to me afterwards of a “formidable character whose compassion for marginalized human beings, and deep sense of justice, is such an asset to us all.” Yes!
So how can I summarise the politician who has made more of an impression on me than any since David Lange?
* A compelling voice in government. While the issue of her status as a transgendered woman is always going to be the one that catapults her into international attention, one only needs to study the documentation available on her emerging spheres of influence as an elected politician to see how she has impacted on the lives of so many people, and carried them along with the force of her own conviction and integrity. She is far from the one-issue politician her enemies portray. As Mayor of a rural town where conservative politics and red-neck values had long flourished, she was elected in 1995 with a 48% majority and re-elected 3 years later with 90%. When re-elected as an MP for a second term in 2002 it was with a whopping majority of 6400. The picture is clear - within the democratic process the controversial issues surrounding her sexuality and gender receded as ordinary people assessed her leadership abilities, and her ability to represent them on a wide range of issues. In other words, Ms Beyer has succeeded in spectacular fashion as a role model for countless others, in this country and abroad, who long to break out of the harsh stereotypes imposed by generations of ignorance and prejudice.
* A voice for decency and social justice. If there was one phrase that recurred through her address it was “vulnerable minorities.” Even on this day of writing, Georgina was on the Linda Clark radio show defending against attacks by National’s health spokesman, Dr Paul Hutchison, on the tiny proportion of the public health budget spent on sex change surgery. Lucid, factual and quite devastating in her ability to cut to the core of an issue, she cited the pitifully small budget given for the purpose ( $180,000 and 3 operations in 2 years) as being way too small in terms of both needs and benefits, yet citing her own case as an example of the liberating potential of such surgery to release lives from the confusion and stigma so often heaped on those trying to cope with sexual identity crisis.
Her influence for good is cosmopolitan and wide-ranging. As well as being a leading proponent of the Civil Union legislation, she is a member of the parliamentary branch of Amnesty International, of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Assn, of the Maori caucus, Trustee of Aids Foundation, and Patron of Rainbow Youth, to mention only a few
* A champion against homophobia. None at her Dunedin meeting will forget her piercing description of her encounter with Brian Tamaki of Destiny Church on the steps of Parliament as he brought his blackshirted legions to oppose “ the sin of gay marriage.” She said she looked into his eyes and saw such venom as to convince her she must remain in the political arena, if only to continue to witness against the evil of institutional homophobia.
In Georgina Beyer is a woman who knows the enemy when she sees it, and has no fear in naming its power and malice, yet not so prejudiced against the Church and church people as to believe that all are tarred with the same brush. Indeed, she graciously acknowledged the support of an enlightened church voice raised against prejudice, and in support of the downtrodden minorities she knows so well.
Almost half our Glenaven congregation heard her address, and I dare believe went away as moved and encouraged as I.
Ken Russell (writing in our Dunedin Parish bulletin, August 2005)