Transgender lawyer Kelly Ellis is in a talkative mood,
despite a hectic day balancing court with media interviews
following her selection as the Labour Party candidate for
She can only laugh when asked if it's been a busy day, and
describes the past six months campaigning for the nod to
fight for the Whangarei seat as a "roller-coaster ride".
But it's one that's not over yet, as the campaigning will
start all over again in the run up to the elections in
She was "incredibly humbled" by the selection, and while she
wouldn't say she was surprised by it, admitted "it could
easily have gone another way, and that I might be looking for
something to do with myself, and probably somewhere to hide,
come Monday morning".
"Rarely am I lost for words, but when they announced that I'd
gained the candidacy I choked up a bit," she said.
"There's just too many people to thank and all I could do, I
suppose, is put a few dollars on the bar for my friends to
have a drink, and now get on with the real business of
sorting stuff out."
If Ms Ellis wins the seat she would become New Zealand's
second transgender MP, following in the footsteps of Labour's
former Wairarapa list MP Georgina Beyer.
But she's not too keen on the comparisons.
"Look, Georgina Beyer was fantastic, and a pioneer, but I'm a
very different person from her," Ms Ellis said.
"I come from a very different background. We do have very
similar values but I think that if you start getting into
comparisons it's a bit like saying, 'well your heterosexual
so you must be like so-and-so because she's heterosexual',
and if you're transgender, Labour, and a political aspirant
therefore you must be like somebody who has those other three
qualities," she said.
"Here was I thinking that perhaps the media would have gone,
'hey, being transgender and trying to get into politics is
not a novel thing, it's been done before', and yet inevitably
there seems to be an enormous focus from the media on that.
"I won't say I'm getting grumpy about it or anything, because
obviously the attraction from the media I have because of
that, and I try to use it as best I can to articulate the
"But let's get real about it, who's interested in it? No one
really. It's only a passing interest and if anybody had a
choice of, do you want to take an interest in that or do you
want to take an interest in trying to get jobs and education
and healthcare for our kids, well then it's no contest.
Everybody goes, 'oh shut up about the transgender business
and lets look at these important things'."
Those important things she wants to tackle mostly stem from
poverty and inequality. Her focus will be on developing
Whangarei into a prosperous city where not only Kiwi families
in Australia want to come back to, but Australians themselves
want to move to.
"If one addresses poverty then everything else falls into
place," she said, referencing the "so many files" on her
legal shelves of people who fell into crime because of issues
related to childhood poverty.
Transgender issues will "not at all" be the focus of her
politics, she said.
"There's always a bit of fear that I'm only there to promote
trans issues, the reality is I'm looking at issues which
effect everybody, whether they're trans, black, brown,
yellow, white, male, gay, not gay, female etc.
"Don't get me wrong, I'm not going to throw my trans friends
under the bus, but I'm not here pursuing a trans policy. I'm
pursuing economic policies and social policies which will
better this town.
"If we look at policies which create opportunities, it
doesn't matter whether you're trans or not you're going to
get the advantage of that."
However, she did admit that her "secret" trans agenda was in
being openly transgender and "willing to stand up" and be
"I think that sends a powerful message out that we're not all
broken down hookers and sequined, stilletoed ladies of the
night. Some of us actually have to mow our lawns and pay our
schools fees and go to work in normal jobs."
And she intends to keep her normal job as a criminal defence
barrister while she's in politics, balancing the two so she
can "feed the cats and pay the mortgage", saying: "I'm not
one of these rich National Party people who can go full-time
on the hustings."
The move into politics came because she's "always been up for
a challenge", she said.
"I'm really looking forward to being able to advocate for
causes which really strike home to me," she said.
"I think we're a bit of a back-water [in Whangarei] and we
need Wellington to pay attention to us, and if we do that and
turn it into a great town where my kids want to come and
work, then I will have succeeded."
- By Patrice Dougan of APNZ
Name: Kelly Ellis
Family: Married to wife Kelly Ewing. Has two sons - Jack,
and Dave, 18 - from a previous relationship.
Location: Whangarei. Originally from Wellington.
Profession: Criminal defence barrister, newly selected
candidate for Whangarei.
Politics: A focus on addressing poverty issues and
jobs for young people. Healthcare and equality issues
also high on the agenda.
Hobbies: Loves cooking and spending time with her
Used to be a keen sailer and avid motorbike fan, but
lives a "pretty domestic" life these days.