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Transgender lawyer to vie for Whangarei seat

Thursday 6 Feb 2014 5:29 p.m.

A fight is brewing in Whangarei which could end in New Zealand having its second ever transgender MP.

Kelly Ellis wants to be Labour's woman in Whangarei, but she has her work cut out for her.

First she has to win the Labour nomination, but then it gets much harder. She could find herself going up against Winston Peters.

Her accomplishments run long - a yacht racing, motorbike loving, pig rearing farmer come successful criminal lawyer.

She is also a mother who used to be a father.

"In 2005 I looked back at myself - 90 kilograms, goatie beard, shaven head, gun cabinet full of rifles, and a Holden Monaro," says Ms Ellis. "I thought to myself who am I trying to prove something to here?"

If successful in the Labour selection, and then beyond that at the election, Ms Ellis would become New Zealand's second ever transgender MP. Georgina Beyer was the first.

"New Zealanders are pretty liberal and, I think, an open-minded country," says Labour leader David Cunliffe. "I think that's a great thing."

Ms Ellis accepts the inevitable interest in her gender and personal life and that some people may not like it.

"Much as people might say I'm very nice, I'm actually quite tough and bitter. So if anybody wants to chew on me they'll end [...] with a bad taste in their mouth."

So watch out Mr Peters. The New Zealand First leader isn't ruling out running in Whangarei. He recently opened an electorate office there and has a house just 45 minutes away.

"I can see the headline now 'Winston Peters won't rule out Whangarei'," says Mr Peters. "Now, I don't like being engineered into the public being misinformed."

And yet he still wouldn't deny it.

National hasn't announces its candidate either. Alongside Ms Ellis, the other two potentials for Labour are environmentalist Vivienne Shepherd and Lynette Stewart, a health sector worker, who also happens to be Mr Peters' sister.

Labour's candidate will be announced in late March.

In the meantime Ms Ellis has a wedding to attend. Her own, to her ex-wife. The marriage had to end when she legally changed sexes, back before same-sex marriage was legalised.

"In a month's time she's going to be my ex-wife, ex-civil union partner and current wife."

Mr Peters commented on her upcoming nuptials, saying, "so what are you saying? Mr Right has now become Mrs Right?"

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