GEORGINA BEYER
Politician and human rights advocate
1957

The world's first transgender mayor and Member of Parliament

When Georgina Beyer was attacked by a group of men in Sydney in 1979, it marked a turning point in her life.

The transgender sex worker was left depressed and suicidal after the violent assault, which she never reported to police.

"In my time, many of us ended up down in the street sex industry scene, on the fringes of society, utterly marginalised. I've been brutalised and exploited, I've been pack raped. I've had to endure that kind of thing and it either kills you or it doesn't. What doesn't kill you makes you stronger."

Instead of accepting the status quo, she decided to change it. She resolved to live her life with dignity as a proud trans woman and change attitudes by example.

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Sixteen years later, she became the first openly transsexual mayor in the world, winning the Carterton mayoralty race in 1995.

"It's less of a reflection on me but a wonderful reflection on them - rural conservative New Zealand. Who would have thought?"

Four years after that, she ran for Parliament, beating her former colleague and high-profile broadcaster Paul Henry to win the Wairarapa electorate and become the world's first transsexual Member of Parliament.

In her maiden speech, she acknowledged the historic moment saying: "We need to acknowledge that this country of ours leads the way in so many aspects. We have led the way for women getting the vote. We have led the way in the past, and I hope we will do so again in the future in social policy and certainly in human rights."

Beyer spent eight years in government, where she was integral in passing the Prostitution Reform Bill in 2003, which decriminalised prostitution and promoted the welfare and safety of sex workers.

"On the third reading of the Prostitution Reform Act, I got up and said: 'I will assume Mr Speaker that I am the only person in this chamber who has ever worked in the sex industry'. I paused and looked around to see whose hands were going to go flying up and of course there weren't any. In that moment, I guess they gave me tacit approval that I was the expert on this thing in this chamber," recalls Beyer.

Her speech was met by thunderous applause and is said to have changed three MPs' minds, securing the majority needed to pass the bill.

Beyer's time as a sex worker marked a dark period in her life, as she was forced out of mainstream society, which neither understood nor accepted transgender members.

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Unable to find work, she felt she had no alternative but to enter the sex industry.

These days, while the world is far more accepting of transgender people than it was in Beyer's youth, she says there is still work to be done.

"I stand on the shoulders of people who went before me and now people stand on the shoulders of people like me.

Speaking to The Spinoff earlier this year, she said: "I have spent the better part of my life trying to make things better for this generation. My faith now lies with this younger generation to stand on my shoulders, just as I stood on the shoulders of those who went before me. I've done my bit to move the needle, now it's your turn."