BEVERLY HILLS - A law that allows killing of gays and flogging of women is under fire in Beverly Hills.
The law effective May 1, in the Southeast Asian country of Brunei, provides for fines and prison sentences for gay men and lesbians, and women who have abortions. Phase Two includes corporal punishment such as amputations and flogging women who have abortions. By Phase Three citizens of Brunei will see gay men and lesbians being half-buried, then publicly stoned to death.
Why the Beverly Hills protest? Simple, the Sultan of Brunei owns the Beverly Hills Hotel, along with the toney Hotel Bel-Air in neighboring Los Angeles, and eight other high-end "Dorchester Collection" properties in England, France, Switzerland, and Italy. Sultan is among the world's richest men, based on the oil and gas extraction industry. Shell has major investments in the country.
On Monday night the Feminist Majority Foundation had planned its annual Global Women's Rights awards dinner at the hotel, but upon news of the Sultan's new Taliban-like laws, they pulled their event and moved it elsewhere. One speaker after another promised to do all within their power to publicize the legal atrocity that now obtains in Brunei, and to give the Sultan unceasing bad publicity and reduced income until the law is rescinded.
Almost a hundred protesters turned out on Monday at noon at an intersection across the street from the Beverly Hills Hotel on Sunset Boulevard. The demonstration was organized by the Feminist Majority Foundation, with speakers from many other groups, including Equality California EQCA, the LA Gay & Lesbian Center, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, the Human Rights Campaign, and UNITE HERE Local 11.
Mavis Leno, board member of the Feminist Majority, and her husband Jay, both spoke. She called upon "eternal vigilance" to protect human rights gained over the years, and now threatened. Jay asked, "What year is this? Berlin 1933? Women and children being kidnapped and sold? We have to apply economic pressure."
Dolores Huerta, president of her own foundation, and an early leader of the United Farm Workers, urged, "Let's join in this movement and say to the Sultan what he is doing is wrong. Sí se puede!"
The Sultan's sordid behavior became apparent in these two hotels five years ago. He purchased them in 2009, and shut them down for renovations, letting all 300-plus employees go. Many lost homes and cars, declared bankruptcy, and suffered long-term unemployment in a poor job market. In 2012 he reopened the hotels, but with only a small handful of the previous workers. In the words of Ada Briceño, a former employee at the Beverly Hills who considered it her second home, "The Sultan of Brunei is an anti-woman, anti-gay, anti-union, union-busting dictator! The new owner chose to do with the workers what they did with the furniture-threw them out!"
Officially, the protest did not call for a formal boycott, drawing a fine line between that word (which has legal implications) and simply encouraging non-profit organizations and private parties to take their business to less murderous environments.
A speaker from the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), insisted that no state, and no religion should have the kind of power over individual lives that the new Brunei laws command. "There is belief," he said, "and there is behavior." Religion cannot be used as a convenient cover for barbarism and hate.
Lorri L. Jean, CEO of the L.A. G&L Services Center, made the point that such bigotry happens right here at home, too - young gay boys and girls kicked to the street by their families because of religious intolerance. She was not the only person who made the logical, timely comparison to Donald Sterling, owner of the Clippers basketball team, recently caught making blatantly offensive racist statements.
The Dorchester Collection distributed its code of ethics, which states: "Never participate in or tolerate discrimination or harassment of any kind, be it social, racial, ethnic, sexual or religious or affecting any other protected status." Unless it happens unnoticed, very far away.
Worldwide public opinion is being called upon. Check for the latest developments at www.feminist.org and #StopTheSultan.
Photo: Eric Gordon/PW.