Carmen, one of the most out and bold glbt people in New Zealand in the 1960s and 70s, died aged 75 from kidney failure, a complication of her failing health since a fall, and subsequent hip operations.
When called by GayNZ.com Beyer early this morning was sobbing and hardly able to speak. "I looked up to her," she says. "I have such huge respect for her. She provided us with visibility. She was so warm, so affectionate, with a great sense maoritanga."
Speaking later once she had "regained my composure" Beyer said one of her proudest moments as an MP was when she and fellow gay MPs Tim Barnett and Chris Carter welcomed Carmen into Parliament to meet the Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition. Carmen's previous visit to Parliament came when she suggested some MPs were gay or bisexual and was subsequently hauled before Parliament's powerful Privileges Committee by then Prime Minister Rob Muldoon.
Beyer also says she was aware of the irony that, when she entered Parliament for the first time, as an MP, the only other transsexual person to have put a foot in the premises had been Carmen.
"When I was voted into Parliament Carmen said she was so pleased for me," says Beyer. "In fact she predicted that I would become Prime Minister!"
On another light note Beyer giggles slightly when she recalls the period in her life when she was a prostitute. "One night at her coffee lounge Carmen gave me my first client!"
Beyer says Carmen's International Coffee Lounge and Carmen's Balcony nightclub were vital places in their day for glbt people in Wellington. "They provided us with a safe place to be who we are," she remembers. "And when she left the country her legacy continued with Chrissie Witoko's Evergreen cafe.
"We're losing a generation of pioneering transgender people," says Beyer, and we must not forget the lessons they taught us and the opportunities they created for us all."
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