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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, May 9 2014 - Volume 42 Issue 19
Brunei fallout: Unions, celebrities, Gay rights groups boycott Beverly Hills Hotel
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Brunei fallout: Unions, celebrities, Gay rights groups boycott Beverly Hills Hotel

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

Imposing sharia law on his small Southeast Asian country has already cost the Sultan of Brunei $1.5 million, and is likely to cost him much more as a world-wide boycott of his luxury hotels grows.

Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah, reportedly worth $20 billion including investments in posh hotels in the U.S. and Great Britain, introduced sharia on May 1.

Among the penalties is death by stoning for Gay people and for women who have sex outside of marriage. Men will be allowed to take four wives and married women will be legally obligated to have sex with their husbands. If they refuse, they may be flogged.

The International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) has ruled that Brunei's sharia laws were incompatible with international human rights law, and the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights has said he was deeply concerned by their introduction.

The Sultan's action touched off a global firestorm of protest, including a boycott of his landmark Beverly Hills Hotel, the venue for an annual pre-Oscar event.

UNITE HERE Local 11, the union that represents Los Angeles-area hotel workers, has been joined by Hollywood celebrities like Jay Leno and Ellen Degeneres, and by the HRC (Human Rights Campaign) in leading the boycott.

UNITE HERE 11 has posted a satirical 'Breaking Up with the Beverly Hills Hotel' video on its website, and has created the DumpBHH.org site to document the progress of their boycott.

The Beverly Hills Hotel, long a gathering place for Hollywood celebrities, has already lost $1.5 million in bookings as organizations moved their events to different venues, among them the Motion Picture and Television Fund's annual Night Before the Oscars charity event, and the Feminist Majority Foundation's annual Global Women's Rights Awards.

Virgin Airlines owner Richard Branson Tweeted on May 3 that he and his employees would no longer use the hotel.

Beverly Hills Mayor Lili Bosse introduced a City Council resolution condemning Brunei, which passed unanimously. She had made a 'personal decision' to boycott the hotel, Bosse added, due to the 'shocking and inhumane' actions of its owner.

'We are standing for human rights, we are standing for dignity and we are standing for those who don't have a voice,' she said.

In England, Gay actor Stephen Fry is leading a similar boycott of the Sultan's flagship hotel, London's Dorchester.

HRC called on the Beverly Hills Hotel to stop promoting same-sex wedding services, which offer free champagne and strawberries as part of the package.

'The sultan is offering free strawberries to LGBT couples in L.A. and death by stoning to those in Brunei,' said president Chad Griffin in a statement. 'This is the height of hypocrisy, and we must ensure that profits from LGBT weddings in the U.S. stop going to a regime that could soon start executing its LGBT citizens.'

Christopher Cowdray, CEO of the Dorchester Collection group, the Sultan's holding company, said he felt the hotels were being unfairly targeted.

'It is not just about the Sultan of Brunei. These laws exist in other parts of the world,' Cowdray said, and activists were not 'refuting laws in those countries.'

'There are other hotel companies in this city that are owned by Saudi Arabia ... you know, your shirt probably comes from a country which has human rights issues,' Cowdray added.

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