For many, many years, Rotary clubs were a male domain.
In New Zealand, women were first admitted in 1989 and the first female club president was elected in 2004.
Now, the Queenstown branch has broken new ground, electing a transgender woman as its club president.
Monica Mulholland, raised in County Cork, Ireland, lived as a man until she was in her 50s, only this year deciding that “enough was enough”.
“I don’t have many years left, and that’s another reason I decided to come out now,” she told The Press.
“I have been playing a role all of my life. It is time to get real. It is time to just be me. I want to die as I really am, and not as some kind of artificial construct that society has forced me to be.”
Monica (pictured) initially had concerns about how the Rotary club would respond to her transition.
“The response was amazing; I didn’t have one negative experience, I was blown away,” she said.
“The people in Rotary clubs are there because the want to help their communities and they want to do good.”
Monica told The Press that her Queenstown club was a credit to New Zealand.
“Rotary clubs are mostly white older folks, lots of men, and you would think they would be really conservative,” she said.
To say her childhood years were tough is perhaps something of an understatement.
The eldest of nine siblings, Monica was brought up in a small Catholic village where the chances of coming out were “absolutely zero”.
“I knew when I was four or five years old. There has never been a day since then when I didn’t know it,” she said.
“I would say I was probably a bit of a ‘mammy’s boy’ and a bit feminine early on.
“In retrospect, I think my parents were worried I was gay. Looking back on the photos from that era, I can see how lost I was in a boxing class, and how unsuited I was to something like that.
“You just kept that part of yourself hidden.”
Monica says it is important to have transgender people in positions of leadership within communities.
“When I was growing up it was seen as perverted even to be gay,” she said.
“It’s so important to have role models, and for younger people to see that it is possible to live a full and happy life as a transgender person.
“There is this attitude that being transgender is a curse, well I want people to see it as a gift.”
Monica will take over the role as Queenstown Rotary Club president in July.
Photo: Courtesy The Press