On Friday, June 27, LGBT, feminists, human rights and labor activists will stage an “international day of action” calling for the Sultan of Brunei to repeal the hateful and deadly Sharia laws against women and LGBT people he announced last May 1. LGBT and women’s groups protested the new law on May 5 across the street from the Sultan’s Beverly Hills Hotel, which will again be the cite for the Friday demonstration slated to start around 7 p.m. under the rubric #StopTheSultan.
The Beverly Hills Hotel protest is among others planned in 13 cities (so far), including at Brunei embassies in Washington, D.C.; Brussels, Belgium; Canberra, Australia; Delhi, India; Manila, the Philippines; and Ottowa, Canada.
Longtime gay and AIDS activist Cleve Jones has been helping spearhead the effort. Jones consults for labor group UNITE HERE Local 11, which has been advocating a boycott of the Sultan’s Beverly Hills Hotel and Hotel Bel Air since February 2013 over a labor dispute. When it became known last April that Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah would replace the existing sentence of 10 years in prison for being gay with punishment that includes death by stoning, Jones and scores of others (such as LA LGBT Center CEO Lorri Jean at the May 5 rally above) called for an official boycott of the entire Sultan-owned Dorchester Collection of hotels in London, Geneva, Milan, Rome, Paris, as well as Beverly Hills over the “kill-a-gay and flog-a-woman” penal code.
The reaction to the Sultan’s imposition of Sharia Law and the call for a boycott grew quickly, with entertainment industry icons such as Ellen DeGeneres saying she would not visit the hotels “until this is resolved.” Business mogul Richard Branson expended the boycott to his employees:
Then LA LGBT Center, the Feminist Majority and GLAAD ran a “Don’t Sleep With the Sultan” campaign ad in Variety:
That triggered a threat of legal action, with Beverly Hills Hotel attorneys sending a cease-and-desist letter to the LGBT groups and Variety, claiming that the hotel owned exclusive rights to the picture from Niall Clutton.
“The sole purpose of the letter was to inform the parties who purchased and published the advertisement that they were using our photograph without permission—the same sort of action that Variety’s lawyers routinely take to protect Variety’s intellectual property,” a Dorchester Collection spokesperson told Variety in an email.
The letter is not their only recourse. The Beverly Hills Hotel is pushing back on social media with a Facebook page We Are the Beverly Hills Hotel asking people to “Stand With Us” as a plea from the employees, with perhaps some help from the Dorchester Collection’s PR department:
The boycott of The Beverly Hills Hotel is hurting us: the employees. We are the 650 men and women who cook, serve food, clean rooms, keep up the grounds, tend bar… We are the employees who make The Beverly Hills Hotel what it is….
Let us be perfectly clear: we do not tolerate discrimination. We believe in freedom of expression. And we wholeheartedly embrace diversity and difference. We also respect the right of all Americans to protest. But we respectfully request that all those who are boycotting The Beverly Hills Hotel review the facts and weigh the consequences and benefits of their actions….
Right now, we are collateral damage in a misguided and wrongly targeted boycott. While we are grateful that the hotel is protecting us by maintaining wages and tips, the economic realities of the boycott are still being felt by all of us and by the many small, local businesses in our community that supply our hotel with products and services…. We respectfully request those boycotting The Beverly Hills Hotel to review the facts and weigh the consequences and benefits of their actions. The people truly hurt by this boycott are community members, our local and small business partners, and of course us: the employees. Please reconsider your decision to boycott.
The Facebook page now has 7,155 “likes.” Perhaps that’s because some celebs like reality star Kim Kardashian, featured at the top of the page on Wednesday, has reconsidered the boycott.
"I started to realize that maybe boycotting the hotel isn't the best solution either," she wrote Monday on her blog. "For a sultan that has 20 billion dollars, this loss of business doesn't even make a dent in his fortunes. But the hotel staff are being negatively affected every day with the boycott that has gone on for weeks now. We shouldn't punish the amazing hard-working people who have been so good to us for years!"
The anti-Sultan groups responded to the PR effort with another ad—this one in the Hollywood Reporter called “Shame on the Sultan.”
The Dorchester Collection is “using its employees as human shields in a desperate attempt to deflect criticism of the Sultan,” Jeff Krehely, HRC’s VP and chief foundation officer, said in a statement. “The fundamental truth is that profits from these hotels belong to a regime that could start executing women and LGBT people as soon as next year.”
Friday also marks the 45th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots. "Supporters of women’s and LGBT rights will gather across from the Beverly Hills Hotel in Los Angeles to mark the anniversary of Stonewall and rededicate ourselves to fighting for equality and the right to be ourselves—everywhere," gay rights activist Billy Pollina told The Hollywood Reporter.