Veteran AIDS Activist Phil Carswell has passed away

Veteran AIDS Activist Phil Carswell has passed away
Image: Phil Carswell

Veteran AIDS activist and trail blazer in the Australian LGBTQIA+ activist community Phil Carswell has sadly passed away.

The teacher, activist and former President of the Victorian AIDS Council passed peacefully at his home in Brisbane, aged 70.

Phil leaves behind is husband Ian and a remarkable legacy of activism and dedication to our community.

Phil Carswell passes away at age 70

Phil Carswell has led a remarkable life, giving countless years of his time to the LGBTQIA+ community.

Much of his activism began in the 80’s during the peak of the AIDS crisis as Phil campaigned for awareness and support during the crisis, rallying those around him.

Speaking to the Star Observer in 2023 Phil recalled the early community meetings as the crisis unfolded.

“I just remember looking out and seeing so much talent. There were people with all sorts of professional qualifications,” he said.

“What we had in that room was talent and people whose talent could be turned and mobilised into doing something serious and deep…who willingly gave their time and talent to the organisation” he recalled.

In 1983 he became the convenor of the Victorian AIDS Action Committee, the following year he became the first President of the Victorian AIDS Council.

“He led our community through the darkest days of the AIDS epidemic, with unflagging energy and optimism, despite the heavy burden of grief he carried as many of his closest friends died” recalled his friend Adam on Facebook.

Phil went on to become the first openly gay man employed by the Victorian Health Department to work on AIDS prevention.

He later moved to Queensland where he worked for Queensland Health for over 20 years.

In 2015 he was award the Order Of Australia for his work and dedication.

Tributes flow for Phil

After the news broke earlier today members of the LGBTQIA+ community posted tributes to the late activist and his remarkable work.

“Phil was a dedicated teacher, a union activist, a journalist, a socialist and a gay liberationist, all before he was 30” wrote a close friend.

“He was widely admired for his boundless energy and enthusiasm, his ability to work with people of all backgrounds and all views, and for his political and organisation skills” they continued.

Former Brisbane Pride Festival President and fellow activist Peter Black took to social media to pay tribute to his friend.

“Phil led an extraordinary life and made a remarkable contribution that improved the lives of so many people in our diverse communities” he wrote.

“He was a fighter and campaigner to the end and he will be deeply missed, especially by his loving husband Ian.”

Thorne Harbour Health, formerly the Victorian AIDS council posted their own tribute this afternoon as well.

“We are shocked and devastated by the news that our Founding President Phil Carswell OAM has died this morning” they wrote.

“Phil’s inspirational leadership and unwavering commitment to both the Australian response to HIV and AIDS as well as the rights and wellbeing of our LGBTIQ+ communities more broadly cannot be overstated. We lost a legend today.”

You May Also Like

7 responses to “Veteran AIDS Activist Phil Carswell has passed away”

  1. I remember Phil with affection from teacher unionist and Communist Party days in the late 1970s. He was easy to love, and astounding to me with his courage, energy and commitments to socially progressive agendas. one of the best of the left. He was sexy too! Condolences to Ian.

  2. Much of his activism didn’t begin in the 1980’s, as Liz Ross has pointed out. He was active in Gay Liberation Front in Melbourne from c.1973, as a teacher and active in his union. The Teacher’s Union was the first to acknowledge it’s queer members and the first to employ an openly gay man. He was involved in the production of the, then controversial, Young, Gay & Proud. The 1980’s, yes, was the period of immense HIV activism but Phil was more than that. He remained until his death a strong human rights advocate. We have suffered a great loss.

  3. Dear Friends,
    I am very sad at the passing of such a wonderful person as Phil Carswell.

    The last time I saw Phil was at the Ruby Red Ball, last year . We chatted, had a few photos and laughed together about old times.

    He was small in stature but a living giant for the cause.

    I hope that Thorne Harbour is planning to celebrate the life of this wonderful man.

    He fought so hard for our community in the AIDs battle. Never tired or gave up but pressed on.

    We loved you “Phil Carswell”. Thanks mate.

    May He Rest in Peace.


    John Cumming

    PS: Ian Cherry, Phil’s partner was his backstop and was always there for him.

  4. An icon and a legend. It may have been decades but I will be thinking of Phil today.

  5. A huge loss. Phil was active in student politics, Gay Liberation, a socialist from the 1970s and of course his wonderful contribution to HIV/AIDS activism. Hopefully his book will find a publisher too. Someone who never gave up in the struggle for our rights and liberation. VALE PHIL!

  6. I first met Phil when I became involved in the Candlelight Vigils and the AIDS Quiilt in 1992. I soon became aware of how Phil was showing leadership and dedication to step up and help save thousands of lives.

    The Australian community owes him a debt of gratitude.

    The different he made help to shape and forge modern LGBT+ Australia.

    Phil – thank you for your friendship, mentorship, and leadership.

  7. Thankyou for this tribute to Phil. He was a great activist and inspiration to me in unionism. Gay rights and of course his pioneering work in helping to set up VAC now Thorne Garpur Health. Thankyou for recognising this community champion 🙏🌈🕺❤️