Earlier this month, The New York Times published a piece on the global boycott of the Beverly Hills Hotel and all Dorchester Collection properties. The boycott stems from the draconian policies against women and the LGBTQ+ community imposed by properties’ owner, Sultan of Brunei Hassanal Bolkiah, in his country.
The Times interviewed me for its story, as I have been a recognized leader of the boycott since its inception in 2014. The boycott around the world has been a raging success. It was immediately embraced by scores of Hollywood celebrities, executives, and business leaders such as Ellen DeGeneres, George Clooney, Sir Elton John, Sir Richard Branson, Valentino Garavani, and Jay Leno. The boycott has contributed to the sultan and his Brunei Investment Agency, the sovereign wealth fund of Brunei, losing hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue.
In October, I sent a letter to the sultan and Brunei’s ambassador to the United States, offering to meet with them to seek a resolution to the ongoing stalemate. Although I fully recognize the audacity of such a move, I was sincerely hoping it might serve as a catalyst to finally achieve a breakthrough in this horrible endless saga for everyone involved — most importantly for LGBTQ+ people in Brunei, who continue to live in fear and under oppression.
It’s been over three months and I haven’t heard a word. I then forwarded the contents of the letter to Christopher Cowdray, the CEO of the Dorchester Collection. He did respond by saying, “We run our company according to our own values and the laws of the lands we operate in and our owners support us in this.”
That ignores the undeniable reality that every penny of the company’s profits goes to the Bruneian government.
I read the Times article and was shocked to see that some prominent people have patronized the Beverly Hills Hotel in recent months who should have known better. Some of them have used their fame and power to advocate on behalf of progressive social and political causes. How can they justify the obvious hypocrisy of going to one of these properties?
It’s time for them to live up to their own words and standards. As George Clooney said when he announced his support for the boycott, “Let’s be clear, every single time we stay at or take meetings at or dine at any of these nine hotels we are putting money directly into the pockets of men who choose to stone and whip to death their own citizens for being gay or accused of adultery.”
I also have to note the laughable absurdity of Caitlyn Jenner’s recent trip to the hotel’s Polo Lounge. She ended up complaining about the establishment on social media because she was thrown out for violating the dress code. The fact that Jenner, a former candidate for governor of California no less, is completely unaware that she, as someone who is part of the LGBTQ+ community, shouldn’t have been there in the first place is a perfect example of how so many in Hollywood have lost any sense of awareness and conscience when it comes to what’s going on outside of their bubble.
Edward Mady, the general manager of the Beverly Hills Hotel, was quoted in the Times saying “What boycott?”
The cavalier, tone-deaf response from Mady and the Dorchester Collection overall is a slap in the face to the innocent people who are continuing to live under the reality of these oppressive rules.
As I asked in the Times article, “Is having your McCarthy Salad really more important than human rights?”
Nothing has changed. Until Brunei’s harsh interpretation of Sharia law is fully repealed or the hotels are sold, the Dorchester Hotels boycott is ongoing.
This is just the beginning in terms of what we plan to do in 2022 to ramp things up and make sure that our voices are heard.
James Duke Mason is a writer, activist, and former city official from West Hollywood.