As a young camp counselor and later camp director, I often heard the story of the little girl walking along the seashore with her father and coming across hundreds of beached starfish. As she proceeds to throw one after another back into the ocean her father asks her, “Why?” He says, “You can’t save them all.” She responds, “Well, I can save this one,” and throws another back into the sea.
I hate that story. I sort of had the same reaction to Gotye’s “Somebody That I Used to Know.” a.k.a. “A Song I Used to Like” before I heard it 5,467 times.
The thing is, lately the story of that little girl continues to pop into my head in regard to the sultan of Brunei. To recap, the sultan ultimately owns the Dorchester Collection of Hotels, to which the Beverly Hills Hotel and the Hotel Bel-Air (and eight hotels in Europe) belong. The sultan has recently instituted archaic laws in Brunei making it possible, in three years, to stone LGBT people to death and flog women in the public square if they have had an abortion or have been accused of adultery.
Many of our LGBT and progressive partners have simply asked that people not spend their money at these venues. Astonishingly, much of what I’m hearing now might as well be directly out of the mouth of the little starfish girl’s father:
“Well, what about all the hotels owned by the Saudis?”
Again, I hear the father’s argument, “Well, you can’t stop every genocide, warlord, or war — so why this one?”
Folks, no matter how you slice it you cannot get around the fact that these hotels are owned by the sultan. This is a man who believes that burying a woman or gay man up to their necks for a slow, torturous death by stoning should be the law of the land. And yes, I agree the sultan is a big $20 billion bully. In fact, he’s one of the biggest bullies on the playground.
Your friends Ellen, Elton, Richard Branson, and Sharon Osbourne, and your friends at the Human Rights Campaign, the L.A. Gay and Lesbian Center, Unite Here Local 11, Equality California, the Latino Equality Alliance, the Courage Campaign, and the Feminist Majority have all chosen to take this bully on.
And maybe if enough of us can actually tackle this guy to the ground others will notice. And maybe the world will notice that so many of us on this playground actually care and want these hotels sold to an ownership that respects the dignity and worth of all human life. Maybe because our entertainment friends in Hollywood are fighting alongside us, our friends in the fashion industry of Europe will fight as well.
After all — exactly who do you wear to a stoning? Versace? Ford?
So yes, you can sit on the sidelines and complain, “If not all, why one?” You can be afraid that this bully is simply too big and too powerful and how can a boycott hurt a billionaire? You can even stay silent and say absolutely nothing.
Your silence is a stone in the palm of the sultan.
Some say our efforts only hurt the workers. Seriously? It is our progressive partner Unite Here Local 11 that has established a workers relief fund … not to be confused with the Dorchester Collection CEO, Christopher Cowdray, who, when asked how he feels about LGBT people being stoned to death on the streets of Brunei, stated that he has, “No opinion on that whatsoever” and whose company has fired hundreds of union employees. So don’t be fooled by the rhetoric of the sultan or the complicit silence of those on his payroll.
Maybe we can’t fight every bully on the playground all at once, but I assure you, if we can take down one, the others will be watching.
ANTONIO DAVID GARCIA is the director of policy and community building for the L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center.