Shaneel Lal: Georgina Beyer was beacon of hope in fight against transphobia

Georgina Beyer received an MNZM for services to LGBTIQA+ rights in 2020. Photo / Mark Tantrum


The passing of whaea Georgina Beyer leaves behind a significant void. I am trying to reconcile with the sudden emptiness by searching for the answer to the question, what challenge did Beyer leave for New Zealanders?

After my speech demanding a ban on conversion therapy at Youth Parliament in 2019, Louisa Wall passed my number to Beyer and hers to me. I saved her number on my phone. One evening while waiting for my train, I got a call from Beyer. My heart jumped out of my chest when I saw her name on my phone. It was like getting a call from the queen of the queers herself.

I was 19 and new to politics. Parliament’s Twitter account stepped in to condemn the amount of homophobia and transphobia targeted at me after Youth Parliament. I entered a lion’s den when I started engaging in politics. I didn’t know what to do with the movement to ban conversion therapy, so I asked her what I should do.


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In our conversations, she reiterated her message – why do they hate us so much, and why can’t they just let us live? It was clear to me that she wanted trans people to live free from discrimination, harassment, and violence, and she fought like hell to make that dream come true. She never put that to me as a challenge, but making her dream come true is now a challenge for Aotearoa.

Beyer never sugar-coated anything. She put things straight to me. Advising me on how I should approach the movement to ban conversion therapy, she added, “They will hate you, but they cannot defeat you. They are no match for people like us.” By “they” she was referring to the Christian extremists. Her advice was to “go hard” and “give it everything you have”. For a young person in the middle of a mammoth but stalled movement, her belief in me allowed me to accept I could lead the movement.

I will remember her as kind, passionate, caring and often hilarious. I will remember her as someone who practised what she preached. Beyer went hard! In 1995, Beyer did what seemed impossible by becoming the first transgender mayor in the world. In 1999, she defeated Paul Henry in Wairarapa and became the world’s first transgender Member of Parliament.

In her maiden speech, Beyer said, “Mr Speaker, I can’t help but mention the number of firsts that are in this Parliament … and yes, I have to say it, I guess, I am the first transsexual in New Zealand to be standing in this House of Parliament. This is a first not only in New Zealand, ladies and gentlemen, but also in the world. This is a historic moment.”


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Her questions – why do they hate us so much, and why can’t they just let us live remain crucial to fighting transphobia. Beyer’s voters did a brave thing – they got to know her and, when they did, they realised that Beyer was just as competent as cisgender people. I implore people to keep being brave – get to know trans people, and you may learn that we are no different and pose no harm.

Beyer is by far the only trans person to be elected to New Zealand’s Parliament. She was an icon, a legend, kuīni, a beacon of hope, a formidable leader, and a trailblazer. I don’t think queer people gave Beyer her flowers while she was around. But after losing her during a time transphobia is on the rise, many feel we have lost our anchor.

Trans people will inherit Beyer’s legacy of fighting transphobia. Some will reject it. Many will embrace the honour. But will cisgender New Zealanders step up to the challenge of making Aotearoa a safe country for trans people?

Shaneel Shavneel Lal (they/them) was instrumental in the bill to ban conversion therapy in New Zealand. They are a student, model and influencer.

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