Walter Naegle, partner of the late civil-rights activist Bayard Rustin, spoke at an Equality Illinois briefing Oct. 11 at the law offices of Quarles & Brady.
Naegle was in town for the unveiling of Chicago's Legacy Walk, which honored Rustin with a plaque in the Boystown part of North Halsted Street. Rustin is best known for his service as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s chief political advisor, strategist and speechwriter; he also worked toward LGBT equality in the 1970s and 1980s.
"If you really look at the whole of [Rustin]'s life," Naegle said, "the theme was equality. He was raised in a Quaker household, where one of the fundamentals is the brotherhood of all people. ... He was in the African-American civil-rights movementnot just because he was Blackbut because it was the right thing to do. It was the movement of that time."
Naegle offered brief remarks before opening the floor to questions. He shared stories from his time with Rustin and mused on ways in which LGBT civil rights have shifted over the years.
For example, Rustin legally adopted Naegle as his son before Rustin's death in 1987. According to Naegle, it was the only way to put a legal framework on the men's relationship.
"[Rustin] was 37 years older than I was," Naegle said. "We did not want to find ourselves in a position where he was ill or incapacitated, and I was not allowed to be with him, to visit him, because I wasn't a blood relative."
As Rustin's legal child, Naegle was able to act as executor of the Rustin estate. Today, he works to preserve Rustin's memory.