A protest in front of the Beverly Hills Hotel on Saturday morning drew close to two dozen people, including members of the fashion industry, charitable arts organizations and a local labor union, united in an effort to draw attention to recent anti-gay laws in Brunei.
The Beverly Hills Hotel was targeted because it is part of the Dorchester Collection of properties owned by the Brunei Investment Agency, an arm of the Brunei government that manages the oil-rich country's luxury hotels in Europe and the U.S.
Members of the fashion world at the demonstration included Decades boutique co-owner Cameron Silver and designer Gregory Parkinson. The protest’s organizer, Art of Elysium founder Jennifer Howell, was also there, as were a half dozen members of Unite Here 11, a local union that represents hospitality workers.
“It’s important to acknowledge what’s going on around us,” Parkinson said, “It can’t hide behind the face of luxury.”
The activity got underway shortly after 9 a.m. with a group of nine gathered at one corner of the hotel driveway on Sunset Boulevard in Beverly Hills. Four members of the hotel’s security staff were stationed just north of them along the driveway. In addition, three uniformed police officers on bicycles stood watch just across the driveway beneath the iconic Beverly Hills Hotel sign.
The group’s number seemed to peak around 9:45 a.m. when some 20 people held aloft signs and tried to hand leaflets to the occupants of vehicles entering the property.
It was a genteel, civilized affair -- at least for the hour and 45 minutes this reporter was on site. At one point, a hotel staffer brought out a case of bottled water for the protesters.
In a request for comment on the boycott last week, the hotel emailed the following statement attributed to Leslie Lefkowitz, a public relations consultant for the Beverly Hills Hotel and Hotel Bel-Air: “We continue to abide by the laws of the countries we operate in and do not tolerate any form of discrimination of any kind. The laws that exist in other countries outside of where Dorchester Collection operates do not affect the policies that govern how we run our hotels. Dorchester Collection’s Code, endorsed by the company’s ownership, emphasizes equality, respect and integrity in all areas of our operation, and strongly values people and cultural diversity amongst our guests and employees.”
The most visible symbol of the protest was a large, rectangular banner in bright pink, held aloft by two union members, that read: “This hotel is owned by homophobes."
This isn't the first time that sign has been unfurled in front of the Beverly Hills Hotel; there was a similar protest staged in February 2013 by the union, which has been a longtime opponent of the Dorchester Collection, a grievance that has its roots in a past union-busting action at the Hotel Bel-Air, also owned by the company.
“We’re involved in LGBT issues too, because workers' rights are human rights,” explained union member Ben McCloud, as he handed out leaflets emblazoned with a pink triangle and the words "The Beverly Hills Hotel = DEATH."
Leigh Shelton, communications director for Unite Here, said she knew exactly what she wanted the ultimate outcome to be. "We want them to either legalize being gay in Brunei or for [the Dorchester Collection] to get the hell out of L.A.,” she said.
“They should sell [the hotels] if they won’t change their laws.”
The group had some everyday citizens in the mix too. One of those was West Hollywood resident Jim Baranska, who was making his first-ever protest appearance, George Michael coffee mug in hand. "I love this hotel – I’m a patron -- so it’s hard for me to be here,” he said. "But I read about it in the L.A. Times and decided to come down."
Also among the attendees was a 3-year-old girl named Leia, who clutched -- in the way only a toddler can -- a piece of posterboard on which was scrawled the words “No stone” in pastel pinks and blues, the words a reference to new legislation in Brunei that increases the maximum punishment for being gay from a 10-year prison term to death by stoning.
“Their grandfather is gay,” said Mandy Stein, referring to Leia and Leia’s 15-month-old sister Stein, held in her arms, “So it hits home. … We need to raise awareness -- that’s a start. I can’t believe I didn’t even know about it until last night at dinner.”
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