Why the Beverly Hills Hotel Boycott Still Matters (Guest Column)

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"Is having your McCarthy Salad really more important than the brutal torture and murder of innocent people in Brunei?" asks columnist James Duke Mason ahead of an Oct. 15 protest outside the hotel.

Earlier this year, it seemed that the momentum of the boycott against the Beverly Hills Hotel had started to slow down and that the hotel’s PR spin machine was beginning to have an impact. Though most of those who have been most vocal about the boycott from the beginning — people like Warren Beatty, Ellen DeGeneres, Elton John, Jeffrey Katzenberg and Steven Spielberg — had not, and still have not, gone back, some celebrities and industry professionals had seemed to conclude that it didn’t matter to them, that they missed their McCarthy Salad too much to care about the torture and murder of innocent LGBT people.

"It hurts their employees if we don't come," was their most popular excuse. No, it actually doesn't; the hotel has compensated employees from the beginning of the boycott for their lost tips. But Miley Cyrus, the Kardashians, Justin Bieber and a group of other celebrities who are widely known for their social/political consciousness, decided that they would go back regardless of the facts. Therefore many assumed that if they are going back, then it must mean the entire boycott is over.

Then, less than a month later, the shooting in Orlando happened. Forty-nine innocent people, most of them members of the LGBT community, were murdered in cold blood by a man who claimed that his motivation for what he did was Sharia Law — the same Sharia Law that was implemented by the Sultan of Brunei in his home country back in 2014, which caused the boycott of all Dorchester Collection hotels to begin in the first place.

Under Sharia Law, gay people are to be savagely tortured and executed, and women are to be publicly flogged for adultery or having an abortion. This isn’t some abstract, theoretical thing. In countries that have Sharia Law on the books, places like Nigeria, Iran and the Sudan, those horrific punishments occur on a regular basis. Brunei has only had the law on the books for a short time, so trust me, in due time, it'll happen there as well.

In America, however, we don’t have Sharia Law, so Orlando shooter Omar Mateen decided to take matters into his own hands.

What happened in Orlando served as a visceral reminder for me of why this boycott is still so important and should be a wakeup call for everyone who continues to patronize the Beverly Hills Hotel. Is having your McCarthy Salad really more important than the brutal torture and murder of innocent people in Brunei? Do you really care more about having hash browns in the Coffee Shop than honoring those who were slain in Orlando and all the other victims of religious bigotry and violence around the world? And I say that as someone who literally grew up at the hotel and who knows most of the staff by their first names. It wasn’t easy to give up the hotel when it was basically my home, but it was something I had to do.

Some say the boycott is ineffective, that the Sultan will never change the laws or sell his hotels. Maybe so. But at this point, it’s not about that anymore. It’s about the principle — it’s about saying that we don’t want to give our money to a business owned by a man who condones murder, who believes that homosexuality is a sin that can only be addressed through brutality and ISIS-style executions. It’s about saying that we here in Hollywood aren’t the “limousine liberals” that many make us out to be, that we don’t just contribute to causes because they’re trendy or come out for boycotts because they’re fashionable for five minutes — that we actually believe in something.

Others ask, "aren't there more important problems that need to be addressed, such as this election we have a few weeks from now?" I don’t disagree that this election is of huge consequence for our nation, and that we must do everything we can to stop Donald Trump from sitting in the Oval Office come next January. But in the same vein, we must speak out wherever bigotry and injustice is taking place, and this travesty in Brunei is exactly along those same lines.

This Saturday, between 3 and 5 p.m., we will be holding a protest in front of the Beverly Hills Hotel. Assemblyman Richard Bloom will be there, as will the former Speaker of the California State Assembly, John Perez. We’re expecting other elected officials and celebrities to join as well.

But I hope you’ll join us to take a stand and use your voice to make a real difference. Together we can send a message to the management of the hotel, the Dorchester Collection as a whole and the Sultan of Brunei that this issue hasn’t gone away. We will continue to raise the alarm and keep on fighting — no matter how long it takes.

As the great philosopher Dante once said, "The darkest places in hell are reserved for those who maintain their neutrality in times of moral crisis."

We cannot be neutral, we cannot be apathetic. We must act now. If not for yourselves, do it for the people of Brunei, the people who were lost in Orlando and all of those across the world who do not have a voice.

James Duke Mason is a writer, political activist and city official in West Hollywood, Calif.