Hollywood vs. Homophobia: How the Beverly Hills Hotel Became the Latest LGBT Battleground

Equality advocates are betting that its lush, palm-studded grounds, sparkling blue pool, and legendary pink edifice still won’t attract anyone who cares about equal rights.

Demonstrators protest draconian punishment of women and gay people announced by the Sultan of Brunei, near the entrance to the Beverly Hills Hotel, which is owned by the Sultan, on May 5. (Photo: David McNew/Getty Images)

May 6, 2014· 2 MIN READ
Hayley Fox is a regular contributor to TakePart who has covered breaking news and the occasional animal story for public radio station KPCC in Los Angeles.

The opulent Beverly Hills Hotel may offer a “gay wedding package” for LGBT couples who choose to marry there, but powerful locals would like the iconic hotel’s royal owner to divorce himself from the property over a new slate of homophobic laws he’s implementing in his overseas kingdom.

The sultan of Brunei, Hassanal Bolkiah, is worth $20 billion and controls an international luxury hotel chain that includes Los Angeles’ Bel-Air Hotel and the Beverly Hills Hotel—posh locales that have become the scene of protests this week. Big-name celebrities and entertainment industry heavyweights are joining equal rights advocates to protest implementation of the Islamic legal code known as sharia in the Southeast Asian state.

The harsh new law punishes homosexuality as if it were a crime akin to rape and murder and subjects women to a harshly imbalanced legal code. At worst, the laws would punish homosexuality and women adulterers with death by stoning.

Officials from far and wide—from the city of Beverly Hills, Calif., to the United Nations—have asked him to reconsider.

“Ideally, the Brunei government will repeal these horrific laws,” Beverly Hills Mayor Lili Bosse wrote in an email. “However, if that doesn’t happen, we would like to see the hotel under different ownership so that its long and rich history in Beverly Hills will not be tarnished by the Brunei government’s actions.”

The United Nations has asked the government of Brunei to revisit its penal code too, but in this town, what speaks even louder than government action may be the words of celebrities.

“Evil flourishes when good people do nothing, and that is pretty much what this is,” said late-night host Jay Leno at a protest outside the Beverly Hills Hotel on Monday. “What year is this? 1814? Come on, people, it’s 2014.”

The history of the Beverly Hills Hotel is one of celebrity legend. From the Beatles to Elton John, Elizabeth Taylor to President Bill Clinton, the guest list is a who’s who of the rich and famous. But now the A-list has put the landmark location (the hotel is more than 100 years old) on its D-list, publicly encouraging a boycott of its parent company, the Dorchester Collection, which has properties all over the world, including in France, Italy, and England.

In April, Ellen DeGeneres took to Twitter announcing her boycott of the Dorchester’s L.A. hotels.

In recent days, Sharon Osbourne tweeted her support for the boycott, as did Virgin Group founder Richard Branson and shoe designer Brian Atwood.

Even Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer has denounced the Beverly Hills Hotel.

“The Brunei government’s recent adoption of a barbaric penal code cannot stand,” Feuer said in a statement. “I call upon all the people of Los Angeles to join this boycott.”

But celebrity criticism can only go so far—the real pressure may be in the world of event planners. High-profile events have been pulling out of the Beverly Hills Hotel and relocating in protest. Most notably, the Motion Picture & Television Fund says it will relocate next year’s star-studded pre-Oscar benefit event, which has been held at the Beverly Hills Hotel for more than a decade and has raised millions of dollars for its selected charities.

Celebrities have a long track record of supporting the LGBT community, and their star power has proved persuasive in national campaigns. In 2008, after Proposition 8 passed in California, amending the state constitution to ban same-sex marriage, everyone from Kim Kardashian to Cher participated in a highly publicized “No H8” photo series protesting the antigay measure. Hollywood became a hot spot for protesting antigay organizations and individuals who supported the gay marriage ban.

But as Hollywood’s elite suits up for battle with Brunei, leaders of the Dorchester Collection say the fight is misguided and could have financial consequences for hotel employees who have nothing to do with the laws of Brunei.

“Today’s global economy needs to be placed in a broader perspective,” said Christopher Cowdray, CEO of the Dorchester Collection, in a statement. “Most of us are not aware of the investors behind the brands that have become an integral part of everyday life, from the gas we put in our cars, to the clothes we wear, to the way we use social media, and to the hotels we frequent.”

Bosse said she is confident the Beverly Hills Hotel still has a bright future and will “outlive this current issue.” As soon as Brunei’s laws are repealed or the hotel is sold, she said, it will again be “as popular and as iconic as ever.”