New Zealand’s Georgina Beyer is the first transgendered person to be elected to a national parliament. She’s in Vancouver to speak at a forum on Oct 2 hosted by the Public Service Alliance of Canada, CUPE BC, the BC Government and Service Employees’ Union and Egale Canada.
Georgina Beyer: I’d just served six years as mayor in the area where I lived. I was tapped. I said “no” quite a few times. They were insistent. I was elected legitimately; it wasn’t a free pass. It wasn’t just my achievement; it was an achievement of my electorate.
Xtra: What’s the worst transphobia you faced as a parliamentarian?
GB: An evangelical church mounted a national campaign against civil unions. They mounted a protest to Parliament. They wore black and marched in formation through the city. I stood on the steps of the Parliament waving a rainbow flag. I said aloud, “My God, I feel like I’m at a Nuremberg rally.” It absolutely backfired on them.
Xtra: In 2006, New Zealand’s solicitor-general wrote a legal opinion saying transgendered people were covered by its Human Rights Act, and you were able to withdraw your trans rights bill. A similar bill passed second reading in Ottawa in June. The government said it is unnecessary because trans people are already protected under existing laws. What suggestions do you have for Canadian parliamentarians and activists?
GB: It’s pretty standard around the world now to have sexual identity put in human rights legislation. Societies are programmed into the binary of male and female. It doesn’t leave much space for anything outside of that.
Xtra: What would you suggest for Canada’s prostitution laws?
GB: There are definitely some human rights issues here. There are health and safety issues. In New Zealand our [decriminalization] legislation has been in for seven years. The sky hasn’t fallen in.
Our former law was similar to what you have here. Clients were never criminalized. They were let off the hook. That’s not fair. I would advise… to take a close look at the New Zealand legislation. I think they can benefit from getting a grip on the issue, not allowing it to continue to exist in the twilight world that it does. It diminishes the power of the criminal element, the pimps and procurers.
Xtra: BC’s human rights code says discrimination is prohibited on the grounds of origin, religion, marital status, family status, physical or mental disability, sex, sexual orientation or age of that person or that group or class of persons. Is this enough?
GB: No. Gender identity. It doesn’t scream out at me in there. Are we a sex? Sexual orientation? That doesn’t include it. It’s not enough. Gender identity needs to be specifically spelled out in there.
Xtra: What suggestions do you have for trans people as they move forward coming to terms with their personal truths?
GB: That they have a healthy respect for the society and the community that they live in. There’s too much of a “me, me, me” attitude. We need to be more magnanimous than that. We shouldn’t be tolerated. We want equality. We’ve got to assist them to understand. Rise above it and set an example.
Xtra: What other issues do trans people need to look at moving forward?
GB: In the transgender community there are suddenly elder trans. I think people need to get their heads around how they’re going to be looked after when they’re old. Where are the rest homes for us?
Xtra: What advice do you have for the international queer community as rights move forward?
GB: In the gay community, we’re now going back into our silos. My cautionary note to us all is law is easy to change. It only takes a stroke of a pen to wipe it out. Our wider community of queer is important to maintain. Don’t factionalize. It will be divide and conquer.
Saturday October 2
W2 Storyeum, 151 W Cordova St
Xtra caught up with Beyer last year. Watch our video interview: