A small group gathered on Saturday morning at the Beverly Hills Hotel to protest ownership by the Sultan of Brunei and his homosexual death-penalty policy. An estimated 15 people gathered at the main entrance to the hotel on Sunset holding signs, carefully watched by three policemen with bicycles and three hotel security men in black, who said they were just there “to keep people safe.”
“Hollywood spends a lot of money at the Beverly Hills Hotel and I don’t want it to end up in the hands of that person,” explained actress Beth Grant (The Mindy Project). “We just want in a loving and compassionate way to put an end to it,” she said, meaning homophobia in Brunei supported by big spenders at the Beverly Hills Hotel. The protesters held up a banner touting the website dumpbhh.org, which contains a petition and a headline noting, “If the hotel was in Brunei, gays couldn’t stay, because it’s illegal to be gay in Brunei.”
Cameron Silver, owner of a Hollywood vintage couture store, organized the event along with Jennifer Howell, who works for fashion-supported charity Art of Elysium. “We’re here in a peaceful way to energize taking more responsibility,” said actress/musician Rain Phoenix, 41, who directs Art of Elysium’s music program Elysium Sessions. “Once people know where our money goes, that the things people buy affect people far away, courageous love can not only quell but transform the hate. If we greet hate with hate, we only create more hate.” Phoenix said the protest was reminiscent of her first public appearances as a 3-year-old singing as a religious evangelist with her brother River Phoenix on street corners in Venezuela. “Through the Internet, we can transform how people feel.”
“Stay strong!” said a woman pulling into the hotel’s driveway. “That’s Nora [Dunn] from SNL,” said one protester. “We’re not staying, we’re just getting the iPhone we left in there,” said the woman in the car who resembled Dunn. “You’ll see me on the way out.” After she left, another protester said, “They said they’re moving to another hotel.”
“I’m here because I believe the Dorchester Collection needs to make a direct statement about their connection to the Sultan of Brunei,” said Silver, later adding: “We’re not trying put the hotels out of business or threaten the jobs of people who work here. This is not going to go on forever.”
The round of protests against the Dorchester Collection of hotels began after news emerged that an LGBT political advocacy group changed plans to hold a conference at the Beverly Hills Hotel due to the Sultan of Brunei affiliation. On April 22, designers Brian Atwood and Peter Som also encouraged their Instagram followers not to stay at Dorchester hotels.
Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah, the leader of the Southeast Asian nation of Brunei, had unveiled a proposed penal code for his country that included a penalty of stoning to death if Muslims committed any of a broad range of sexual offenses, The Associated Press reported on Oct. 22 last year.
The law, which applies only to Muslims in the country, was to go into effect days ago but was postponed temporarily, Jauyah Zaini, an assistant director of Brunei’s Islamic Legal Unit, told the BBC on April 23.
Bolkiah controls the Brunei Investment Agency which owns the Dorchester Collection of hotels. Along with the luxurious, historic Beverly Hills Hotel, the Dorchester Collection includes The Hotel Bel-Air in Los Angeles, 45 Park Lane in London and locations in Rome, Paris, Milan and Geneva.
Though the demonstration turnout was small, celebrities attached to Art of Elysium might conceivably popularize the boycott, though it is not sponsored by the organization. James Franco, Octavia Spencer, and Beth Grant appeared at Art of Elysium’s 2013 Cannes event, and there will be another event at Cannes 2014. “Shepard Fairey, Spike Jonze, Cat Power, Karen O, Beck, Alex Ebert, and Jakob Dylan are curators of our Elysium Sessions Genesis musical event Aug. 22,” says Phoenix. “Art of Elysium has a 12-person staff, and helps 40,000 children, bringing art into hospitals. We showcase emerging artists in music and have them volunteer in hospitals.”
“We continue to abide by the laws of the countries we operate in and do no tolerate any form of discrimination of any kind,” a Beverly Hills Hotel spokesperson said in a statement to THR on Saturday. “The laws that exist in other countries outside of where Dorchester Collection operates do not affect the policies that govern how we run our hotels. Dorchester Collection’s code, endorsed by the company’s ownership, emphasizes equality, respect and integrity in all areas of our operation, and strongly values people and cultural diversity amongst our guests and employees.”