Georgina Beyer, a pioneering politician from New Zealand who became the world’s first openly transgender member of Parliament in 1999, died on Monday. She was 65 years old.
Friends of Beyer said that when she was in hospice care, she died peacefully. They didn’t say right away what killed Beyer, but he had been sick with kidney failure before and had a kidney transplant in 2017.
Chris Hipkins, the Prime Minister of New Zealand, said that he didn’t know Beyer very well, but he did know that she had a lot of fans in New Zealand and had left an impression on the country’s parliament.
Hipkins said, “I certainly think that Georgina has blazed a trail that has made it much easier for others to follow,”
Malcolm Vaughan, who has known Beyer for decades, said on Monday that he was still with her and wasn’t ready to talk about her life. Instead, he and his husband Scott Kennedy made a statement.
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“Georgie was surrounded by her nearest and dearest 24/7 over the past week, she accepted what was happening, was cracking jokes and had a twinkle in her eye, right until the final moment,” they wrote.
They said she was a “taonga,” which in Mori means “national treasure.” “Farewell Georgie, your love, compassion and all that you have done for the rainbow and many other communities will live on for ever,” they wrote.
Before he got into politics, Beyer, who was Mori, worked as a sex worker and in nightclubs. In 1995, she was chosen to be mayor of Carterton, a small town on the North Island. Four years later, she became a lawmaker for the liberal Labour Party and served until 2007.
She worked to pass the Prostitution Reform Act of 2003, which made sex work legal for the first time.
In a speech she gave to lawmakers at the time, she said that the protections the new law offered might have kept her from being forced into the sex industry at age 16 and kept sex workers from being threatened and raped without being able to call the police for help.
she told lawmakers that:
“I think of all the people I have known in that area who have suffered because of the hypocrisy of our society, which, on the one hand, can accept prostitution, while, on the other hand, wants to push it under the carpet and keep it in the twilight world that it exists in,”
In 2004, she worked to get a law passed that made same-sex civil unions possible. Nine years later, New Zealand made a law that lets people of the same gender get married.
On Monday, politicians from both sides of the aisle were sad about her death. The vice leader of the conservative National Party, Nicola Willis, said that Beyer was brave and kind.
“We came from different political sides but she had the power to breach the divide,” Willis wrote on Twitter.