As one might expect, I awoke this morning with the All Saints' hymn running through my head.
For all the saints who from their labors rest...
I was thinking about all who have passed in the last 12 months, both family members, fathers of friends, and especially the pioneers and the prophets of the gay civil rights movement. There is a lovely entry over at Jesus in Love that commemorates the LGBT saints who have died since this time last year. And this morning, I learned of one more.
O may thy soldiers, faithful, true, and bold, fight as the saints who nobly fought of old...
Axgil was born Axel Lundahl-Madsen. He was one of the founders of LGBT Danmark... then known as Forbundet af 1948 or F-48, The Association... in 1948. He and his partner, Eigil Eskildsen, were sentenced to a short prison term on pornography charges in 1955 for running a gay male modeling agency that took nude photos of men. While in prison, they melded their first names into a new surname--Axgil--in an act of public defiance. They, along with others, fought for decades for the right to have gay relationships recognized by the government. They persevered and on October 1, 1989, they joined 10 other couples in becoming the first to enter into a civil union and gain many of the same rights as heterosexual Danes. Denmark finally granted LGBT couples the right to adopt children last year.
A quote in the Washington Post from Vivi Jelstrup of LGBT Danmark said that Axgil never saw the struggle as "his" cause.
"He was a modest man...He always underscored that there were many involved in the work and that it was a common cause.”
Eigil Axgil died on September 22, 1995.
O blest communion fellowship divine! We feebly struggle, they in glory shine; yet all are one in thee for all are thine.
Reading stories about men such as Axel Axgil remind me that I am part of a continuum of the saints who have worked to bring this world forward in the struggle for full equality for all people. Many have gone before me to lift valleys up and bring mountains a little closer to the ground so that there is a level playing field. Each of us, whether we are standing on a corner with a bullhorn crying out for justice, or simply presenting our full selves without apology before our neighbors, are helping to clear the path and make it a little wider for the next generation to travel toward a fair and just world.
So often we think of saints as the ones who have died. But really All Saints' Day is the time to realize that while some are now immortal, those of us still in this realm are continuing their good works and we are part of the tribe of sainthood. We are to carry on what they have done and accomplish more before it's our turn to rest.