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8 Things to Know If You Want to Actually Help Queer People in Brunei

brunei protesters

Hint: It is not boycotting a hotel.


This article is part of a new ongoing series presented by activist group Voices4 curated by Adam Eli. The series, like the activist group, will seek to drive change in our community by leveraging our global network and elevating marginalized voices.

#BoycottBrunei is trending, and while the rallying cry has been effective in keeping the story in the press and giving angry protesters an actionable target, it is barely half the story.

The news that the Sultan of Brunei has authorized a modification to the Sharia Law that would enforce the death penalty by stoning for adultery, gay sex, and abortion, as well as the amputation of hands and feet for anyone committing theft, has made waves in the international press, and the boycott has been an easy way for people to respond to the horror of the situation. However, the boycott's effect is limited, and there is so much more that needs to be done. Here are some things to know, and actionables to consider, in helping support queer people in Brunei.

1. The boycott barely effects the Sultan's wealth.

The hotels, which are prohibitively expensive to the majority of people boycotting, only represent a fraction of the sultan's wealth. If all the hotels shuttered their doors effective immediately, the Sultan's coin purse would barely take a hit. More significantly, experts in the region do not support the boycott. Representatives from the human rights organization The Brunei Project told us that the boycott launched in 2014 when the first phase of the Sharia penal code was implemented and largely met with ambivalence by the Bruneian people. "The boycott did not have wide support in Brunei because many people felt that they were being attacked rather than their Government and its laws," Matthew Woolfe, the Australia-based founder of The Brunei Project wrote in an email. "While it was seen that innocent people (namely employees of the targeted companies) were the ones being most hurt by the boycotts, the Sultan and his government were largely unaffected. In the end, the boycotts had little impact and those involved quickly forgot about Brunei," Woolfe said.

2. Our own government has yet to condemn these harmful laws.

Naturally, we followed up by asking about the best way for people all over the world to help queer folks in Brunei. Right now, The Brunei Project is "focusing on action that has some chance of bringing about change to these horrendous laws in Brunei ... we are asking people ... to please lobby their governments to hold the Brunei Government responsible for this blatant disregard for human rights by taking action that will directly target the Brunei Government."

Our own government has refused to explicitly condemn the passage of these laws. The U.S. State Department deflected questions asking if it stood in formal opposition to the laws and refused to commit to advocating for their repeal.

3. These laws have little to do with religion.

These new laws, along with certain pre-existing laws, are nothing but a tool to strategically undermine and control the population under the guise of religion. These laws are a direct attack on Islamic principles and the human rights of LGBTQ+ people, women, children, migrants, and other marginalized groups. It is worth noting that the Sultan and his family, who are known for their scandalous extravagance, are likely not sincerely motivated by religion or even queerphobia. It is widely believed that the change in laws is actually a power grab for the Sultan who is looking to drum up support from his conservative supporters amidst economic problems.

It is imperative that we do not allow this situation to stoke the fires of Islamophobia here in the United States and across the world. Much like how Western regimes hide behind Christian farce, this regime is hiding behind a vulgarised, distorted Islamic facade to shore up their power and exert control over their people.

4. This interpretation of Sharia law is directly against the Quran.

The Quran does not promote the stoning of any human for any reason. Ani Zonneveld, founder and president of Muslims for Progressive Values explains "Sharia law is 100% man-made because it was constructed by religious leaders and by politicians, and it's an extrapolation of their understanding of the Quran. Now if you're a misogynistic politician, you're going to interpret that from your personal prism. And Sharia Law is basically a mash-up of that extrapolated understanding of the Quran with the social norms of the day .... it's actually a bastardized version of Islam because there's no such thing as stoning in the Quran."

"And here's the problem with a sharia law that punishes same-sex intercourse: there's no punishment for homosexuality in the Quran, nor did Prophet Muhammad ever punish homosexuals or trans folks in his community," Zonneveld said over email. "It is actually that simple and the first Muslim country to understand that was Turkey when the Ottoman Caliph decriminalized homosexuality in 1858."

5. Voices4 has many demands of the Brunei government, which an international community must step up and demand as well.

We urge the government of Brunei to immediately halt the implementation of the Sharia Penal Code (SPC) and reverse existing laws which contradict the Quran as well as international human rights standards, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT), the ASEAN Human Rights Declaration (AHRD) and the ASEAN Charter. Brunei has signed and ratified these instruments, and thereby must show commitment to respect, protect, and fulfill its obligations.

  • All of the following death penalties must be removed:

    • Article 63: Hiraba (organized crime)

    • Articles 68,69: Zina (adultery)

    • Articles 82,83: Liwat (sodomy)

    • Article 92: Muslim woman sexual act with another woman - potential sentence of 40 lashes, 10 years imprisonment, $40,000 BND fine

    • Article 108: Declaring oneself as God

    • Article 110, 221 Blasphemy

    • Articles 111, 222 Insulting verses of the Quran and Hadith

    • Article 112, Apostasy (renouncing Islam)

    • Article 152: Qatl (causing the death of another) by Black magic

  • All punishments involving amputation or flogging must be removed:

    • Article 55: Theft - potential sentence of amputation of hand, foot

    • Hiraba (organized crime), Zina (adultery), Liwat (sodomy), Muslim woman lying with another woman, Blasphemy, Apostasy, Qatl

  • Laws governing sedition (freedom of speech) must be removed

  • Laws allowing the arrest of persons accused of consensual same-sex relations & adultery without warrant must be removed

The following law must be added:

  • Any acts of discrimination based on age, disability, gender identity or reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex or sexual orientation shall be punishable in a court of law.

6. Here are some ways human rights groups can stand with us.

Organizations and collectives from around the world should mobilize their communities towards direct action immediately. We have prepared a call to action list that must be met in order to ensure the safety of Bruneian citizens.

  • Organize or join a rally or demonstration in your town following our guide below.

  • Demand that Great Britain threaten the removal of the military base Brunei pays them to host inside their borders for protection unless all demands are met.

  • Demand regional Asian leaders, Asian media, Asian human rights institutions, religious leaders, non-LGBTQ+ Muslims speaking out and saying simply: this is unacceptable in our region, this should not be done in the name of our religion, this is Brunei acting on its own and we do not condone.

  • Lobby local governments to hold the Brunei Government responsible for this blatant disregard for human rights by taking action that will directly target the Brunei Government.

  • Revoke landing rights for Royal Brunei airlines. (Info)

7. Here is a rally guide to mobilize your community against Brunei's laws.

In order to gain the most exposure, we are providing an Organizer's Rally Guide for anyone interested in hosting a demonstration in their area. Please click here to see if one is already happening near you, click here to start your own.

8. Protesting and boycotting the hotels is not the wrong move as long as it is not our only move.

This weekend, one of Adam's Instagram followers asked why we are so focused on Brunei, when it is far from the only country with anti-LGBTQI+ laws. "There are many other countries that also have the death penalty for homosexualtiy," they wrote. "Why the big fuss over Brunei? Why now?"

GNB activist Jamie Windust asked a similar question after attending the protest at the Dorchester hotel in London. That night, they asked their followers "Where is all of this outrage when trans and nonbinary people are under attack?"

These are excellent questions worth meditating on. We have not seen a global response with this much energy to a queer tragedy since Orlando, though clearly not for a lack of them. We need to think critically as a community about why some issues flare up in the media and others are downplayed, and we must ensure that we are doing everything we can to uplift the voices that are so often forgotten. The fervor we saw this week online, in London, and in New York is the key to a global movement. Right now, it is essential that we harness the energy of this moment, hold onto this sense of responsibility, anger, and energy, and channel it to advocate not only for queer people in Brunei, but all over the world, including in our own communities.

Over the past week, we have seen queer people come out in huge numbers to stand up for other queer people. Queer people showed up for queers that they don't know. They showed up for cause that will likely not impact their day to day life, at least not in the short term. It is a move in the right direction.

When queer people band together across nationality, identity, race, and religion, our power is unlimited. When we are united, we are a more powerful entity than any government. If we embrace the idea that queer people anywhere must be responsible for queer people anywhere, then we will be unstoppable.

RELATED | It's Not Just Brunei--9 Other Places LGBTQ+ Rights Are in Danger

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Adam Eli, Elly Brinkley, and Matti Bautista