Ellen DeGeneres and Jay Leno boycott Beverly Hills Hotel over Sultan’s anti-gay stance
Tim Walker is The Independent’s Los Angeles correspondent, covering entertainment and other concerns from the West Coast of the US. He was previously a features writer and the editor of the paper’s diary column. His first novel, Completion, was published in 2014.
Tuesday 06 May 2014
Queues of limousines and crowds of photographers are usually the main obstacle to getting into the Beverly Hills Hotel, but since the owner introduced fundamentalist laws to the state he rules, protesters have displaced paparazzi at the entrance.
The Sultan of Brunei, the owner of the Dorchester Collection hotel group, which includes the Beverly Hills Hotel and London’s Dorchester Hotel, is introducing sharia law including punishments such as stoning for adultery and dismemberment for thieves.
On Monday, the hotel was due to host the Global Women’s Rights Awards gala, chaired by comedian Jay Leno and his wife Mavis. Instead, the event was held elsewhere, and the couple joined a midday demonstration outside the hotel by the Feminist Majority Foundation (FMF), the organisation that organises the gala. Around 150 people turned up to protest the policies of Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah, whose Brunei Investment Agency owns the hotel group.
The president of the FMF, Eleanor Smeal, said in a statement: “We cannot hold a human rights and women’s rights event at a hotel whose owner would institute a penal code that fundamentally violates women’s rights and human rights.” The official implementation of sharia law in Brunei in south east Asia began on 1 May, when Bolkiah’s administration criminalised becoming pregnant out of wedlock and “indecent behaviour”. The second and third phases of the legislation will outlaw adultery and homosexuality, and introduce punishments including stoning, flogging and limb amputation. In a speech last week, the Sultan described the law as a “great achievement”.
Brunei’s Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah describes sharia law as a 'great achievement' (Getty)
At the demonstration, three men in suits, representatives of the hotel, stood beside a table offering free water and cookies. Most of the protesters refused to partake. Director Molly Schiot, 33, and her fiancée Cass Bugge, 34, held a homemade sign with a message for the hotel’s guests: “Move your stay to a hotel that isn’t owned by a leader that allows execution of gay citizens,” it read. The couple had planned to hold their engagement at the hotel. “But that was before we found out what [Bolkiah] stood for,” Schiot said. “Most people didn’t know until celebrities like Jay Leno and Sharon Osbourne were open about it, and then everyone caught on.”
The boycott against the Beverly Hills Hotel began in April when the LGBT group the Gill Action Fund cancelled a conference there. The campaign gathered steam as celebrities lent their support, beginning with Ellen DeGeneres, who on 22 April tweeted: “I won’t be visiting the Hotel Bel-Air or the Beverly Hills Hotel until this is resolved.” A week later, Sharon Osbourne invited her 2.1 million followers to join the boycott and last Saturday Virgin boss Sir Richard Branson announced that neither he, his family nor any Virgin employee “will stay at Dorchester Hotels until the Sultan abides by basic human rights”.
The company also owns three UK hotels: the Dorchester and 45 Park Lane in London and Coworth Park in Ascot. On 26 April Stephen Fry tweeted: “Cancelled in nick of time: discovered [Coworth Park] that I was booked into is part of the Dorchester Collection.”
On Monday, the Motion Picture & Television Fund announced it would next year move its annual pre-Oscar party, The Night Before the Oscars, to another venue. The Hollywood Reporter magazine has also decided not to host its annual Women in Entertainment breakfast there. Dorchester Collection CEO Christopher Cowdray said that customers should not concern themselves with the behaviour of investors. “While we recognize people’s concerns, we believe this boycott should not be directed to our hotels and dedicated employees. The economic impact of this not only affects our loyal team members but extends to the local community, our valued partners and suppliers.”
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