About 40 protesters demonstrated across the street from the Beverly Hills Hotel on Friday evening, in an effort to keep up pressure on the Sultan of Brunei and his implementation of Sharia law.
“Whether it is one of us or 100,000 of us, it is important for any woman or LGBT person to know that if their lives are threatened, there is someone in the world who will stand up for them,” said Billy Pollina, a writer-producer who helped organize the rally.
The Sultan plans to implement punishments for sodomy and adultery that include stoning, among other harsh sentences that have drawn condemnation from human rights, LGBT and women’s rights organizations. The Dorchester Collection, which owns the hotel and the Hotel Bel-Air, is controlled by the Sultan’s Brunei Investment Agency.
Although the boycott has drawn widespread support in the entertainment community, a handful of Hollywood figures have questioned whether the boycott is misguided and ultimately will harm the hotel’s employees. This week, Kim Kardashian wrote a blog post that questioned the viability of the protest.
But demonstrators pushed back on that notion, insisting that the boycott is working.
“Miss Kardashian needs to know that in Brunei she would have been flogged for having a baby out of wedlock,” Pollina said. He added, “For those who say the boycott isn’t working I would say the entire world is talking about this, including the UN.”
The boycott started when the Gill Action Fund, which supports LGBT causes, announced on April 17 that it was pulling out of a planned conference at the hotel in protest.
The boycott gained momentum on May 5, when the Motion Picture & Television Fund pulled its annual Night Before party at the hotel, and Jay Leno and other entertainment and human rights activists appeared at a rally across the street from the hotel to announce that they, too, were shunning the Dorchester properties.
Friday’s demonstration drew less of a turnout than the May 5 event, but protesters still made noise as they brandished signs saying “Stop the Sultan” and “It’s Not Sheik to Hate.” Representatives from the Human Rights Campaign and the Los Angeles LGBT Center were among those who spoke, in addition to Pollina and another organizer, James Duke Mason.
By many accounts, the boycott has had a significant impact on the hotel’s business. The hotel has countered by calling attention to its employees, who they say are ultimately hurt by the action even though Dorchester has said that their jobs would be secure and wages maintained.
That has resonated with some industry figures who have publicly announced that they are not supporting the boycott while condemning the Sultan. Among those who have done so are Rose McGowan and Russell Crowe, in addition to Kardashian.
“I think that they are misguided,” said Mason, who also helped organize the rally and is the grandson of actor James Mason. “They are essentially saying, ‘Let’s do nothing. Stay silent in the face of evil.”
Mason, 22, said his family had been going to the hotel for 70 years, and has gotten to know many of its employees. But he said the Sultan was using the employees as “political tools.”
He said that they felt the need to stage another demonstration to “keep up the fight, keep up the pressure.”
The demonstrators stressed that the boycott is not aimed at the employees, but at the Sultan’s policies. They vowed to continue their protest until the Sultan changed the country’s laws or divested ownership from the hotel.