Gay rights pioneer Axel Axgil dies at 96

October 30, 2011 - 7:20 AM

COPENHAGEN, Denmark (AP) — Axel Axgil, whose struggle for gay rights helped make Denmark the first country to legalize same-sex partnerships, has died. He was 96.

Axgil died in a hospital in Copenhagen on Saturday following complications from a fall, Danish gay rights group LGBT Danmark said.

Axgil, born Axel Lundahl-Madsen, was among the founding members of the organization — one of the oldest gay rights groups in Europe — in 1948.

On Oct. 1, 1989, he and his partner Eigil were among 11 couples to exchange vows as Denmark became the first country to allow gays to enter civil unions, with nearly the same rights as heterosexual couples. Eigil Axgil died in 1995.

In the 1950s, both were sentenced on pornography charges to short prison terms for running a gay modeling agency that issued pictures of naked men. The men melded their first names into a new surname, Axgil, and used it in a public show of defiance.

Vivi Jelstrup, a spokeswoman for LGBA Danmark, said Axgil in many ways personified the struggle for gay rights in Denmark.

"But Axel Axgil was a modest man who never cast himself as a lonely warrior," Jelstrup said. "He always underscored that there were many involved in the work and that it was a common cause."

Funeral arrangements were not immediately clear. LGBT Danmark said it planned a memorial service for Axgil at the organization's annual meeting on Nov. 5 in Aarhus, western Denmark.