Last week, the small Asian country of Brunei enacted a penal code where people who have sex with someone of the same gender can be stoned to death. Many other outrageous “punishments” also were instituted, including stoning a woman who has sex outside of her marriage (not a man, just a woman) or amputating a hand or a foot from someone who steals. The man behind these insane laws is the dictatorial Sultan of Brunei, Hassanal Bolkiah. Bolkiah may be a religious extremist but he hasn't shied away from profiting off the Western, secular world. He owns the Dorchester Collection, a group of luxury hotels around the world, which includes the Beverly Hills Hotel and Hotel Bel-Air.
The stoning to death of people who engage in homosexual relations has actually been planned since 2013, when Bolkiah first announced that he was enacting Sharia law, which has been slowly rolled out ever since. The laws were first met with outrage in 2014, when a boycott of the Dorchester Collection began. Five years later, the anti-LGBTQ laws had not gone into effect yet and the boycott had been largely forgotten. For example, Anna Wintour and Condé Nast publicly condemned the laws and agreed to boycott the hotels in 2014. By January 2018, however, Architectural Digest editor-in-chief Amy Astley, whose magazine is part of Condé Nast, was spotted at the Beverly Hills Hotel.
The punishments are part of new sections added to Brunei Darussalam Syariah Penal Code, which was approved by Bolkiah. It's the first time since 1957 that Brunei would enforce a law with the death penalty. Many have once again condemned the laws, including Amnesty International. The United Nations also has asked the country not to implement these portions of the law.
Many celebrities and non-celebrities alike took to social media to re-engage the boycott against the Dorchester Collection. While the motive behind this may be genuine, most everyday people can't even afford these hotels. It's a bit hypocritical to see many posting on social media in one hand about boycotting these hotels that they'd never stay at while they eat Chick-fil-A with the other hand. While Chick-fil-A may not be killing LGBTQ people (at least not by stoning to death), both organizations represent people who are actively working against the LGBTQ community.
If big companies such as Condé Nast want to re-boycott, then perhaps they can make more of an impact. But what could make the most impact is if other countries come out against the laws and enact sanctions against Brunei until the law is changed. President Barack Obama, for example, enacted sanctions on Chechnya when violent attacks on LGBTQ people began there. President Donald Trump, on the other hand, has remained silent. While some right-wing Republicans have condemned the laws, including anti-LGBTQ Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), who called the laws “barbaric,” Trump himself has not spoken out. The administration has only deferred to the State Department, which called the country's actions “torture” but didn't say that the United States would do anything about it.
Perhaps Trump's silence is related to the fact that the Beverly Hills Hotel is allegedly where Trump met adult film star Stormy Daniels, and also where he was accused of sexually assaulting former Apprentice contestant Summer Zervos. He may have connections with the property, Bolkiah or both. Either way, it shows how hypocritical and untrustworthy Trump is in terms of his relationship with the LGBTQ community. Back in February, his administration announced an effort to decriminalize homosexuality in countries where it's illegal to be gay. It would seem that Brunei is the perfect candidate, yet the administration has done little to nothing.
It's worth nothing that one can be a devout Muslim and even follow Sharia law without accepting these kinds of horrific laws. Many consider Sharia to be more of a way of life than a legal code. U.S.-based Islamic Networks Group says on its website, “Some people falsely equate Sharia with criminal or huddud laws, which are centuries-old specific punishments for major crimes such as killing, adultery or theft. Huddud laws are only a tiny part of Sharia and can only be applied by an Islamic state; it is questionable if any of the nations claiming to be 'Islamic states' actually fit that description morally or structurally, so these laws are generally not applicable in a modern context. … Unfortunately, the misapplication of these laws by the Taliban or other contemporary groups or governments generally contradict both the letter and spirit of Sharia and have given it a bad name.” In countries that have huddud laws, oftentimes the harshest punishments, such as stoning to death, are rarely imposed because of a Sharia directive to “maximize mercy.”
Choosing what to boycott is a personal call, but when it comes to the wealthy patronage of the Dorchester Collection, taking a stand can make a difference, financially and optically. For those of us who can't afford their hotels, pressuring representatives to take a stand for the LGBTQ community is a way to recognize that the fight for equality is far from over, not only in this country but around the world.
Advertising disclosure: We may receive compensation for some of the links in our stories. Thank you for supporting LA Weekly and our advertisers.