Over the weekend, actor Russell Crowe became the biggest (and perhaps only) name in Hollywood to reject the international boycott against the Beverly Hills Hotel and other properties owned by the sultan of Brunei, who recently announced plans to enact sharia law in his country, allowing for execution by stoning for gays and lesbians.
“I don’t agree with the boycotting of Dorchester Collection hotels,” Crowe tweeted Sunday. “It only hurts the hardworking staff who I consider friends.”
He’s right in the narrow sense. Hotel workers have done nothing wrong. They aren’t the ones planning to stone gay people to death, and yet they are the ones suffering the lion’s share of the ill-effects of the boycott. According to reports, the Beverly Hills Hotel has lost more than $2 million in revenue since the protests started this month. Those losses, if sustained, are enough to threaten the business but not enough, on their own, to put a dent in the pocket of the sultan, who has an estimated net worth upwards of $20 billion.
It’s a quandary, one we’ve seen only too recently. Calls to boycott the recent Sochi Olympics over Russia’s horrific anti-LGBT laws were shot down over concerns that such a protest would only hurt athletes and do little to impact Vladimir Putin’s government.
America has made tremendous progress on LGBT rights in the last several decades, but those gains will be hollow if the rest of the world descends into a homophobic pit on our watch. It’s time for those who believe in equality to make their impact felt not just at home but around the world. Because, as the brilliant documentary “God Loves Uganda” recently revealed, anti-LGBT religious forces in America and around the world are doing all they can to export their homophobic views to the developing world.
Beverly Hills Hotel workers are currently struggling, but the international attention the boycott has received, and the tremendous outpouring of support for the cause, make it tough to deny that the protest remains a virtuous one. Americans have the power, and the moral imperative, to not only confront homophobia at home but abroad too. In 2006, Brunei’s constitution was rewritten to declare that the sultan “can do no wrong in either his personal or any official capacity.” If we don’t tell him he’s wrong, no one else will.
That being said, if the same Hollywood titans who are leading the boycott could find a way to take care of individual hotel workers who are struggling to make ends meet, that would leave no argument about the righteousness of their tactics, and no excuse for inaction from the Russell Crowes of the world.
Matthew Fleischer is a Los Angeles-based freelance journalist. Follow him on Twitter @MatteFleischer.