By Bob Kecskemety
Axel Axgil 1915 – 2011
Axel Axgil, the last half of the world’s first registered gay couple, died last Saturday, October 29 at the age 96 from complications from a fall.
Axel Axgil and Eigil Axgil were Danish gay activists and a longtime couple. They were the first gay couple to enter into a registered partnership anywhere in the world following Denmark’s legalization of same-sex partnership registration in 1989, a landmark legislation they were instrumental in passing. They adopted the shared surname, Axgil, a combination of their given names. They chose this combination of their given names as an expression of their commitment after they met in the 1940s.
Axel (born Axel Lundahl-Madsen) and Eigil (born Eigil Eskildsen), inspired by the 1948 United Nations’ Declaration of Human Rights along with several friends, founded F-48 or Forbundet af 1948 (The Association of 1948), Europe’s first gay rights organization. By 1951, F-48’s membership had grown to 1,339 and there were branches in Sweden and Norway. In 1985,
F-48 became the Danish National Association of Gays and Lesbians. The couple launched a magazine, Vennen (The Friend).
Axel’s sexuality gave him problems in his home town of Aalborg, where he was expelled from membership of the Justice Foundation, lost his job and was banished from the boarding house where he lived and ate, according to journalist Bjarne Henry Lundis who wrote a biography about Axgil.
At that time, Danish police would hunt for gay men. Together, they both saw their businesses destroyed.
In 1950 Axel and Eigil owned a small publishing company, the International Modelfoto Service, which produced and discretely sold photos of nude men. The IMS was run from premises that also housed Vennen.
In March 1955, both were arrested and confined in isolation for 11 months then sentenced to 12 and 18 months of prison, respectively, for distribution of material which, “although not obscene may be deemed a commercial speculation with a sensual intent.”
The police search of the premises of Vennen and the IMS, which led to the arrest of a large number of sexually active gay men and triggered the so-called Pornography Scandal.
In 1954, the Axgils founded The International Homosexual World Organization (IHWO), which mainly worked through correspondence between individual members.
Between 1968-69 the IHWO published the magazine UNI with articles in seven languages. In 1970, the IHWO successfully appealed to Willy Brandt, the German Federal Chancellor, to discontinue seizure by German authorities of pornographic material mailed from Denmark to individuals in Germany.
The International Committee for Sexual Equality (ISCE) and the Danish and Dutch national organizations for homosexuals kept a certain distance from the IHWO, which ceased its activities in 1970.
Both Axel and Eigil continued their activism and remained important figures in the gay rights movement.
Later they started boarding at the Hotel Axelhuus at Ringsted, Copenhagen, a refuge for many gay men especially from Germany, Sweden and Norway.
In 1989, after years of lobbying by the Axgils and other advocates, Denmark became the first nation in the world to recognize domestic partnerships for same-sex couples. On October 1, 1989, the Axgils and ten other Danish couples were married by the deputy mayor of Copenhagen, in the city hall, accompanied by worldwide media attention.
This made the Axgils the first gay couple to enter into a registered partnership anywhere in the world. Denmark, which still recognizes registered partnerships, is expected to move to full marriage equality next year.
Axel was described as a modest man who never cast himself as a lonely warrior and that he always underscored that there were many involved in the work and that it was a common cause.
Axel was honored at the August 2009 World OutGames which were held in Copenhagen and was a speaker at the
OutGames Conference on Human Rights.
“You have to be impressed by the colossal enthusiasm Axel Axgil has shown throughout his entire life for helping other homosexuals. Regardless of how hard they were hit themselves, he and Eigil tirelessly worked on,” said LGBT Denmark spokeswoman Vivi Jelstrup said in a written statement.
Axgil, she said, had lived “a long life focused on creating something for other homosexuals, regardless of the price.”
Eigil Axgil died in 1995, while Axel Axgil continued his active work for gay people into the 2000s. The Axgils had been a couple for 40 years.