Bayard & Me

Matt Wolf

2017 | 00:16:00 | United States | English | B&W and Color | Stereo | 16:9 | 16mm film

Collection: Single Titles

Tags: African-American, Aging, Death and Dying, Documentary, Family, LGBTQ, Love, Race

In the late 1970s, Walter Naegle was walking to Times Square to buy a newspaper when he ran into a striking older African American man on the corner. Walter says that “lightning struck” and his life changed forever at that moment. The man on the corner was Bayard Rustin.

Walter knew who Bayard was because he was famous for having organized the March on Washington, where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gave his "I Have a Dream" speech. Rustin was an influential leader in the civil rights movement. Having studied with the followers of Gandhi, he brought the ideas of peaceful nonviolence to the movement. During the Montgomery bus boycotts, Rustin was dispatched to mentor a young Martin Luther King. He would continue to advise the young activist, but ultimately Bayard’s homosexuality pushed him to the margins of the movement.

Walter was in his early thirties when he met Bayard, and Bayard was 65-years old—as old as Walter's parents. Walter didn't know any other interracial, or certainly any other intergenerational couples, but he and Bayard were deeply in love. As their relationship grew more serious, Bayard wanted to protect Walter's rights in case anything were to happen to him. At that time gay people had no rights, and the idea of marriage was inconceivable.

So Bayard decided to adopt Walter to obtain those rights. Bayard had a lawyer who was interested in this type of legal mischief. The next step was for Walter to ask his mother to disown him. She was supportive of their union, so she agreed. Then a social worker had to come visit Bayard and Walter's home as if Bayard was adopting a small child. The social worker wanted to make sure this was not some dotty old man being taken advantage of by a scheming youth, or a naive kid being coerced by some predatory older man. It took a couple of years, but the adoption was approved in 1982.

Being adopted gave Walter and Bayard a new kind of confidence as a legal couple. They had already been married in the emotional sense. Their adoption may have been considered radical at the time, but today gay marriage is part of the mainstreaming of society. What is considered radical in one time is not necessarily considered radical in another time.

In July 1987 Bayard and Walter went to Haiti. They both got sick with a stomach virus, but Bayard wasn't responding to medication. It turns out that he had been walking around with a burst appendix for two weeks. Bayard suddenly died. The way that Walter dealt with Bayard's death was by organizing, much the way Bayard would have done. He created a foundation to make sure that Bayard isn’t left out of history because he was gay.

The LGBT movement really started to take off in the 1990s shortly after Bayard’s death, and Bayard was taken on as a kind of inspirational figure. Today Walter sees intergenerational gay adoption as an example of the creativity of gay people to figure out how to navigate a system that was designed to exclude and marginalize them. Bayard was a trailblazer in finding ways around that.

The thing that Walter misses most about Bayard is running into him in the street. His being and his essence could make you feel like you were the most important person in the world.

Directed by Matt Wolf

Produced by Brendan Doyle

Director of Photography – Pete Sillen

Editor – Conor McBride

Composer – Mark Phillips

Produced by Super Deluxe in association with C41 Media



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Prizes + Awards

Grand Jury Prize for Short Film, Outfest, Los Angeles, 2017

Exhibitions + Festivals

Sundance Film Festival, Utah, 2017

Outfest, Los Angeles, 2017

Rotterdam International Film Festival, The Netherlands, 2017

BFI Flare. London, UK

Sheffield DocFest, UK


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