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Gay couple of 50 years reflects on changes in West Michigan

8:54 PM, Mar 15, 2013   |    comments
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Milt Lennox & Ed Ladner. (March 15, 2013)

GRAND RAPIDS (WZZM) -- Celebrating the news of the marriage of an Odawa tribal gay couple in Traverse City, Milt Lennox and Ed Ladner, together almost a half century, took some time to reflect on the changes in attitude they've noticed over the years.

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"When we got together, the word was commitment. We made a commitment to each other." The word "gay" still only meant happy in 1964 when 28-year-old Milt Lennox began seeing 21-year-old Ed Ladner. "He was my first boyfriend and I was his first boyfriend," continued Milt.

Back then, their relationship had to be kept secret, or they could have ended up on the streets. "If you were gay, God forbid, you were canned immediately. Housing discrimination...you name it."

Milt and Ed confided in each other. "People didn't have anywhere to go to tell their problems to back then." Seeing a need for a support system for people like them, they went into the bar business in 1972. "We gave everybody a very safe haven. Doesn't matter if you were gay, straight, bisexual, transsexual, whatever. When you walked through that door, you were a person, not a dollar sign."

Ed is the more soft-spoken of the pair, but added, "What we built throughout the years was not a customer-to-bar-owner relationship. It was an extended family relationship.

For decades, the Apartment Lounge was the only place around where victims of discrimination could go for help. "We were the first to hear many times, that they had been diagnosed with AIDS," said Milt. "One partner being told to get out of a hospital room while the other was dying...you name it, we've experienced it with our customers."

Many of those customers, are still customers today. "But things have got a lot better...there's still a long way to go, but the strides have been phenomenal."

The two have jumped a lot of hurdles in their 49 years of commitment, but as for the big one, "Everyone asks if we're going to get married," said Milt. Ed added, "Maybe for the 50th."

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