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How a boycott of the Beverly Hills Hotel turned the tide on anti-LGBTQ+ laws in Brunei

OPED Dorchester Collection hotels Lana Dubai Beverly Hills California
Dorchester Collection

A decade on, activist James Duke Mason writes on the efforts made in 2014 to prevent the implementation of anti-LGBTQ+ laws in Brunei.

A decade has passed since a coalition of activists and allies launched a bold boycott against the Dorchester Collection hotels. Our collective outrage stemmed from the Sultan of Brunei's declaration in 2014 to implement Sharia law, which included punishments and torture of gay people and women. The boycott was a moral stance as much as a strategic move to force change. By aiming to hit the Sultan where it hurts, his global hospitality business, I am proud to say that we have succeeded.

In 2014, the Dorchester Collection's CEO Christopher Cowdray evaded the issue with a disheartening "no comment." This response only fueled our determination. Silence in the face of injustice is complicity.

Over the years, our efforts gathered momentum, and the pressure mounted.

Celebrities such as George Clooney, Ellen DeGeneres, Sir Richard Branson, and Sir Elton John, along with major corporations, organizations, and everyday citizens, joined us in refusing to patronize the Dorchester hotels. Our message was clear: we would not support institutions linked to such egregious human rights abuses. The Dorchester company suffered major repercussions, both financial and reputational.

After years of our efforts, in 2019, a significant milestone was achieved when Brunei announced a moratorium on implementing Sharia law. While this was not the full repeal we sought, it was undeniably a massive victory. The barbaric punishments we feared would not be enforced. This shift indicated that our boycott had not been in vain and influenced change at the international level.

Though I refuse to patronize the Dorchester properties until the law is fully repealed, I am encouraged by the potential of promise. The younger generation of Brunei's royals have the potential and power to guide their nation toward a future that respects and upholds human freedom and dignity.

Encouraging them to continue this journey is crucial.

Another milestone in our journey is the transformation in the relationship between the Dorchester Collection and the LGBTQ+ community. In 2014, our boycott signified a clear message of opposition. But in a remarkable turn of events, they sponsored Pride festivities in Los Angeles earlier this month. This collaboration would have been unthinkable ten years ago, and is a testament to how far we have come.

The journey from boycott to partnership underscores the power of sustained activism and the potential for change, even in the face of formidable challenges. We have managed to pressure a government to halt the enforcement of inhumane laws and transform a company into a supporter of LGBTQ+ rights.

This is no small feat.

We must acknowledge the big and small wins over the past decade. Our boycott was not just a protest but a catalyst for change. While some may choose to return to the Dorchester hotels, that does not diminish the fact we made a huge difference. We will continue pushing for the full repeal of the law. Still, today, we celebrate the progress we have achieved.

By standing together against injustice, change is not only possible but inevitable. This journey is far from over, but our achievements should inspire us all to keep fighting for a world where human rights are universally respected.

James Duke Mason is a writer, activist, political commentator and former city official in West Hollywood, California

Voices is dedicated to featuring a wide range of inspiring personal stories and impactful opinions from the LGBTQ+ community and its allies. Visit out.com/submit to learn more about submission guidelines. We welcome your thoughts and feedback on any of our stories. Email us at voices@equalpride.com. Views expressed in Voices stories are those of the guest writers, columnists and editors, and do not directly represent the views of Out or our parent company, equalpride.

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