He may not be a household name in the U.S.—even in gay households—but Axel Axgil, who passed away on Saturday at age 96, helped make his native Denmark the first country in modern history to grant domestic partnerships to gays and lesbians.
Born Axel Lundahl-Madsen, Axgil—at left in this photo from the 1940s—founded the Association of 1948 (later renamed LGBT Danmark) in 1948, when he and several friends were inspired by the UN Declaration of Human Rights released the same year. Though his work cost Axgil his job, the group’s numbers swelled to over 1,300 and branches opened in Norway and Sweden.
In 1955, Axgil and his partner, Eigil Eskildsen, were convicted on pornography charges for selling nude muscle pictures. (It was while they were in prison that the men merged their last names names into “Axgil.”)
After their release, the Axgils spent years lobbying the Danish government to legalize same-sex unions and, in 1989, Axel and Eigel (who died in 1995) exchange vows under a new law that granted gay and lesbian couples most of the same rights as married heterosexuals.