Beverly Hills Hotel besieged by protests, boycott over Brunei laws

Boycotts continue to grow at the Beverly Hills Hotel in protest over new laws targeting gays and women at the Southeast Asian sultanate of Brunei, which owns the hotel.

The Beverly Hills Bar Assn. said it was canceling upcoming events there. Partners in Care also dropped the hotel for an event.

The Beverly Hills City Council on Tuesday night approved a resolution condemning harsh new laws in Brunei and urged the sultanate to divest itself of the hotel.

The move heightens the growing political backlash against the Beverly Hills Hotel and Hotel Bel-Air, also owned by Brunei. Celebrities including Jay Leno and Ellen DeGeneres have already called for boycotts.

Brunei last week imposed new criminal codes based on Islamic law with harsh penalties for homosexuality and adultery, including death by stoning.

Christopher Cowdray, the hotel group’s chief executive, said in an interview that the boycotts and protests were misguided and potentially harmful to the city of Beverly Hills.

“They won’t stop the implementation of the new laws,” he said, but rather would “only hurt the [hotel’s] employees.” He added that Brunei had no plans to sell the hotels.

The Beverly Hills Hotel employs about 600 people and the Hotel Bel-Air roughly 400. Cowdray said the Beverly Hills Hotel pays about $7 million in bed taxes and $4 million in city taxes annually.

Leno joined the chorus of condemnation at a demonstration Monday along Sunset Boulevard across from the Beverly Hills Hotel.

“This is 2014, not 1814,” Leno, the former “Tonight Show” host, told dozens of protesters.

Hotel representatives on Monday greeted the dozens of protesters cordially and offered them cookies and water.

Leno noted that Angelenos had lately been absorbed in the local controversy over Donald Sterling, the owner of the Clippers, who was banned for life by the NBA after his racial remarks came to light.

Brunei’s adherence to sharia, or Islamic, law, he said, was far more serious. “I mean, we get so upset when a team owner says something inappropriate,” he said. “Here are people being killed, stoned to death .... It's just a matter of priorities, that's what it is.”

The Feminist Majority Foundation pulled its annual Global Women's Rights Awards, co-chaired by Leno and his wife Mavis, from the hotel. The event, scheduled for Monday, was instead held at the Hammer Museum in Westwood.

Other organizations quickly jumped aboard the bandwagon. The Hollywood Reporter said it would not hold its annual Women in Entertainment breakfast at the hotel.

The Motion Picture & Television Fund, which runs the star-studded Night Before the Oscars, said it would not hold its charity event at the hotel in 2015. In a statement, representatives said they met with hotel executives and “expressed very clearly that we cannot condone or tolerate these harsh and repressive laws.”

Teen Line — a confidential teen-to-teen help line — also recently decided to move its annual fundraising luncheon from the hotel to the Sony Pictures Studios in Culver City.