Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Brian Patrick McGahen (1952–1990)

by Phillip Black

This article was published:

Brian Patrick McGahen  (1952-1990), city councillor, social worker, gay activist and social libertarian, was born on 3 March 1952 at Camperdown, Sydney, elder son of Patrick James McGahen (d.1963), hairdresser, and his wife Monica Marie Anderson, née Pettit, both born in New South Wales.  Brian was educated at De La Salle College, Ashfield, and the University of Sydney (B.Soc.Stud., 1974).  At the age of 17 he opposed the Vietnam War; he refused to register for conscription and was convicted of sedition for advocating draft resistance.  He joined the Eureka Youth League of Australia, the Communist Party of Australia and the Draft Resisters’ Union.

In 1974-75 McGahen was employed as a social worker and drug counsellor in the methadone program of the Health Commission of New South Wales.  When the Australian Social Welfare Union was created in 1976, he was a founding member.  After travelling overseas that year, in 1977 he was an organiser for the Chile Solidarity Campaign.  Over the next three years he worked on projects for the State Department of Youth and Community Services.  With Social Research and Evaluation Ltd in the early 1980s, he reviewed the New South Wales Family Support Services Scheme.

Sexual politics had emerged as a social force worldwide by the mid-1970s.  McGahen found like-minded activists in the Sydney Gay Liberation and subsequently in the Socialist Lesbians & Male Homosexuals.  In 1978 he was part of a collective that organised the National Homosexual Conference on discrimination and employment.  He was chairman (director) of the Sydney Gay Mardi Gras Association from 1981 to 1984, providing the young organisation with structure, direction and vision.

Remaining a member of the CPA until 1984, McGahen stood unsuccessfully in 1980 as its candidate in the election for the lord mayor of Sydney.  In 1984, having campaigned as a leader of the gay community against the Australian Labor Party State government’s failure to repeal anti-homosexual laws, he was elected (as an Independent) to the Sydney City Council for the Flinders ward.  A member of various council committees, he served from 14 April 1984 until the council was dismissed on 26 March 1987.  Policies were implemented to prevent discrimination against homosexuals in council services.

McGahen became a director of a Sydney home care service in 1986, hoping to extend the service to people suffering from acquired immune deficiency syndrome.  He was also concerned about immigration rights for the partners of gay men.  Throughout the 1980s he was a consistent advocate for a permanent gay and lesbian community centre, preferably a registered club.  In 1989 he joined the Pride steering committee, became treasurer, and soon gained support to set up such a club.

In 1987 McGahen was diagnosed positive for the human immunodeficiency virus.  He decided to show that his carefully considered choice of voluntary euthanasia could be achieved in a dignified manner.  Never married, he died on 3 April 1990 at his Elizabeth Bay home, accompanied by five close friends, and was cremated.  He had fought with determination and enthusiasm for what he believed in, often against great opposition.  In 1986 a homosexual social group, Knights of the Chameleons, had made him the Empress of Sydney, and in 1992 he was inducted into the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras Association Hall of Fame.

Select Bibliography

  • G. Wotherspoon, City of the Plain, 1991
  • R. Perdon (comp), Sydney’s Aldermen, 1995
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 17 September 1984, p 4
  • Sydney Star Observer, 6 April 1990, p 17
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 23 June 1990, p 69
  • McGahen papers (State Library of New South Wales)

Citation details

Phillip Black, 'McGahen, Brian Patrick (1952–1990)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2012, accessed online 24 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18, (Melbourne University Press), 2012

View the front pages for Volume 18

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


3 March, 1952
Camperdown, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia


3 April, 1990 (aged 38)
Elizabeth Bay, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Cause of Death


Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.