Transgender Labour candidate not keen on Beyer comparisons

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 Whangarei.

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 September.

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 policy things.

"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 heard.

"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

Age: 53

Family: Married to wife Kelly Ewing. Has two sons - Jack, 21, and Dave, 18 - from a previous relationship.

Location: Whangarei. Originally from Wellington.

Profession: Criminal defence barrister, newly selected Labour candidate for Whangarei.

Politics: A focus on addressing poverty issues and creating jobs for young people. Healthcare and equality issues are also high on the agenda.

Hobbies: Loves cooking and spending time with her family. Used to be a keen sailer and avid motorbike fan, but now lives a "pretty domestic" life these days.

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