From Canada to the Parliament House
by Debbie Simmons
Parliament House owners Don Granatstein and Susan Unger hosted the Metropolitan Business Association meeting on May 1st. Don Williams, MBA Programs Director gave a well deserved introduction, citing that in 2005 Don & Susan sponsored the first Come Out With Pride. It was at the organizational meeting in the Footlight Theater, after watching John Bearse's very powerful short documentary on the progress of our community locally/nationally that Susan came to her feet and exclaimed, “We’ll sponsor $10,000”. Don & Susan have been very accommodating for any kind of meeting the MBA wanted to have at the Parliament, including general/social meetings, Come Out With Pride volunteer drives & organizational meetings for the committee.
They do so much to support the community with their financial contributions and the use of the property to help raise money for all of the various causes and needs. We are very fortunate to have community partners like them! Don Granatstein took the stage and gave a heartfelt review of how they, a straight couple from Canada became the owners of the Parliament House. In the 80’s, Don was a CPA and Susan a designer. With much interest, they watched the US economy as it deteriorated under the Reagan Bush administration with the savings and loan bailout – Resolution Trust Corp.
In 1986, they began purchasing US shopping centers while their friends and colleagues told them they were crazy. In 1991, while working at the Westin they discovered that a gay couple had been prohibited from purchasing a time share because of their sexual orientation. Don took the Westin to task and the gay couple became the first to purchase a unit and the Westin’s policy was changed. Things got really interesting in 1993 when they partnered in time shares with Debbie Reynolds in Las Vegas. Debbie is very gay friendly and through her they met many celebrities and gay people that they enjoyed so much, Susan announced to Don that she wanted to buy a gay resort. Don was doubtful as to whether they could be successful as a straight couple. In 1996 they purchased Grand Lake Resort in Orlando and it was 1999 that they received a fateful call about the Parliament House. On a visit to the property, Don was standing out front talking on his cell phone when a truck driver yelled “faggot”. He was angry that night as he lay awake in bed, starring at the ceiling. For the first time ever, he wasn’t confident about closing this deal. The Parliament House was in terrible disrepair and he was unaccustomed to this kind of hatred, Canada is an open and inclusive country. He looked over at Susan and she too, was lying awake. He told Susan that he didn’t know how this could work. Susan said they could keep “our boys” safe and keep the ugliness outside by building a glass wall and courtyard. Through the process of renovation, they received so many thanks that they began to understand the magnitude of their endeavors. Susan was out in the new courtyard planting with a half dozen people assisting her and Don thought she had hired help, but all of them were grateful customers. This was and continues to be the response from the GLBT community, much appreciation and thanks for taking care of our place. Don ended his remarks by saying that he and Susan now realize that they have become the “caretakers” of the Parliament House.