Opinion: Boycott the Boycotts and Stop Cleve Jones (and the Sultan of Brunei)

Cleve Jones, left, and Theo Milonopoulos
Cleve Jones, left, and Theo Milonopoulos

I never thought I would agree with Kim Kardashian on anything.

But it seems that she and I have found common cause in calling for a boycott of the boycotts of the Beverly Hills Hotel and other properties “owned” by the Sultan of Brunei.

On Friday longtime and heroic LGBT activist Cleve Jones led the call for an international day of boycotts against the Beverly Hills Hotel and other properties managed by the Dorchester Collection, which is owned by the Brunei Investment Agency, an arm of the Ministry of Finance of Brunei.

What Mr. Jones and other unwitting activists don’t understand is that their well-intentioned advocacy is undermining the very human rights campaign they support and instead leaving hotel workers worldwide and Brunei’s underground LGBT community in the Sultan’s crosshairs.

When I was the only openly gay candidate in my race to succeed Henry Waxman in representing California’s 33rd Congressional district, which includes the Beverly Hills Hotel, I appeared before city council after city council begging my fellow LGBT advocates to halt calls for a boycott of a Los Angeles landmark. The employees there contribute productively to the local economy in my district – the hotel collects $11 million in taxes for the City of Beverly Hills alone – and represent the wonderful diversity that makes our nation a beacon of hope for those who activists in Brunei who rightly hide from the Sultan’s wrath.

As I began to explain to the West Hollywood City Council on May 19 before Mayor John D’Amico cut me off mid-speech, the resolution Abbe Land introduced and the rest of the Council adopted calling for a boycott of the Beverly Hills Hotel without a minute of discussion will do more harm than good for the very LGBT people in Brunei these well-intentioned efforts are meant to protect.

As I explained to the Beverly Hills City Council the next day, as an openly gay man, I share the outrage of other LGBT advocates who oppose any violation of anyone’s human rights. As former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton historically stated before the United Nations Human Rights Council in December 2011 – in full view of representatives of Uganda, Saudi Arabia and the Russian Federation, all of whom were members of the Council at the time – “gay rights are human rights, and human rights are gay rights.”

The loud calls for boycotts of the Beverly Hills Hotel reverberating across the globe are actively undermining the quiet diplomacy that was being undertaken by the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC) to persuade the Sultan to end his anti-LGBT policies.

Instead, Cleve Jones decided to turn a decade-long local Los Angeles labor dispute into an international spectacle under the guise of advancing gay rights abroad.

Having worked for two years as a research assistant to former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, and finding myself now pursuing a doctorate in international relations at Columbia University in New York, I know a thing or two about diplomacy. And loud calls of well-intentioned activists can undo years of the delicate balancing act undertaken to resolve human rights crises in ways that do not victimize either the targets of heinous policies or the perpetrators themselves.

As Grace Poore, IGLHRC’s Regional Program Coordinator for Asia and the Pacific Islands, explained to Buzzfeed’s J. Lester Feder and Jacob Fischler in their brilliantly reported expose on the controversy, the Commission had been working with local LGBT activists in Southeast Asia – which is where Brunei is located, not the Middle East – and had been quietly appealing to Brunei’s membership alongside Thailand and the Philippines in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations trade organization to persuade the Sultan to change his policies.

It appears that, after the Sultan of Brunei announced his plans to impose Sharia law in his tiny island nation, he began to have second thoughts and delayed implementation of the most despicable policies as a possible way of opening a window through which he could climb as part of a face-saving exit strategy.

Cleve Jones’ calls for a boycott blew that window off its hinges. As a consultant for UNITE HERE! Local 11, a labor union that has for decades apparently held a grudge against the Beverly Hills Hotel for refusing to allow the association to represent its workers in the 1990s, Jones has decided to put Brunei’s LGBT community at risk in the service of a local labor union’s longstanding feud half a world away.

If there is one thing that dictators do not appreciate, it is being told what to do. That is why they rule their totalitarian regimes with an iron fist. And if these boycotts continue, I worry that that iron fist could come down hard on the underground LGBT community in Brunei.

By boycotting the Beverly Hills Hotel, LGBT activists actually lose any leverage they have to persuade the Sultan of Brunei to change its policies. Ever since Jones first informed his Facebook followers on April 16 that he would be boycotting the Beverly Hills Hotel, conferences and hotel guests have diminished.

No change in the Sultan’s policies, however, have been forthcoming. In fact, if I were the Sultan of Brunei, I would probably dig in my heels and impose harshly the very policies igniting so much controversy, since digging in their heels seems to be the only action Cleve Jones and his associates are similarly willing to do.

I know my call to “Boycott the Boycotts” will be met with excoriating criticism. When I invited Los Angeles LGBT Center CEO Lorri Jean to join me in opposing these boycotts, her director of policy and community building asked me over the phone whether I was accepting campaign contributions from the Sultan of Brunei a few days before he penned an op-ed on the Advocate’s website supporting Cleve Jones’ efforts.

I have long admired Mr. Jones for the historic role he played in advancing gay rights in my state and across this country, and I am no stranger to activism of the most confrontational sort, as this video of my counter-protest to a group of self-proclaimed “confrontational evangelists” on UCLA’s campus earlier this month demonstrates.

But I cannot in good conscience sit by and allow Mr. Jones to misrepresent his ultimate motives in seeking a boycott of a landmark institution in the district I have sought to represent in Congress, particularly when it seems to me Mr. Jones’ mentor, Harvey Milk, would have taken a different approach given that he himself was a business owner.

Instead of a boycott, what we as LGBT advocates should be doing is showing the Sultan of Brunei exactly what happens in the United States on his own property by hosting a big, fat LGBT fundraiser at the Beverly Hills Hotel to benefit those organizations that are working diligently to overturn his policies.

Actress Rose McGowan did just that when she hosted a “gay-in” cocktail party at hotel last month. Rather than promoting division between LGBT activists and the Beverly Hills Hotel’s employees – who themselves have said they are adamantly opposed to the Sultan’s policies – I invite Mr. Jones to join me in co-hosting such a fundraiser and in asking the Dorchester Collection to subsidize the event space and refreshments.

So far, representatives of the Beverly Hills Hotel have denied my requests for “preferential pricing,” as they put it, for my fundraiser. Maybe they will reconsider if Ms. Kardashian, Ms. McGowen and Russell Crowe – all of whom, like me, oppose these boycotts – ask them nicely.

One employee of the Beverly Hills Hotel, who identified as a member of the LGBT community, put it best when he begged the Beverly Hills City Council not to support boycotts of his workplace and instead “knock on the doors of our capital and take your concerns where it counts.”

When I am eventually elected to Congress, I plan to do just that. In the meantime, let’s boycott the boycotts of the Beverly Hills Hotel.

Theo Milonopoulos was a write-in candidate in the June 3 statewide primary election to succeed Henry Waxman in representing California’s 33rd Congressional district.


9 Comments
  1. Cleve Jones is no saint, he is a nimby who tries to keep badly needed housing from being built in San Francisco ( 8 Washington ) on the ridiculous notion, it will keep his rent control rat hole safe from speculators….He should have stayed in Palm Springs… NOW he says he could not possibly live anywhwere else but San Francisco. Please …..

  2. I am amazed at the ignorance regarding Sharia law. A headline isn’t enough folks. They don’t stone people in Brunei. And they never will. The law is exactly as it states in their religious book – Sharia works in tandem with civil court. The burden of proof for Sharia (religious based crimes) is “no doubt” – not beyond a reasonable doubt, but no doubt. That means 4 adult males need to witness a gay couple having sex IN PUBLIC for it to even make it into court. Brunei is a peaceful nation and too bad no one is even bothering to ask them!!! On Twitter they are all complaining about how dumb we look!!! DO YOUR RESEARCH!!!! Brunei is not Saudi Arabia or the 73 other nations with this law. They didn’t invent it! It’s been around since the beginning of time and want to keep their peaceful society stable via this re-declaration of their religious values. It’s that simple. There are gay people there living happily (and they use Grindr!), but they (just like the straight people) can’t show affection in public either, everyone is discreet with their personal affairs. It’s a conservative religious monarchy, not the US and we should stop this nonsense. Women and gay people there don’t agree with this nor want Americans fighting for them!! Isn’t this about them?!

  3. I am stunned by this reasoning.

    I don’t agree that we should support this man’s business so we don’t make him angrier and he might take out his anger on LGBT people. I don’t care that it’s “independently run”, the point is that it is fully owned by him. You don’t placate a bigoted strongman, you just do business with his more reasonable neighbor instead. Will this hurt him? Of course not but its about us taking a stand and showing some spine.

    Loss of jobs and tax income? Ridiculous! Other hotels in the area are picking up the lost business.

    The comparison to other countries owning stock in publicly traded companies is absurd.

  4. Seriously?? “and if these boycotts continue, I worry that that iron fist could come down hard on the underground LGBT community in Brunei.” What’s coming down harder than being stoned to death? You know we are not talking about marijuana here right? Whats worse than having your head bashed in with a rock? Maybe you should move there and reason with the guy rather than trying to keep him well funded..

  5. You lost all credibility after “Having worked for two years as a research assistant to former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, “. I trust no one that was part of that regime.

  6. All the people who demand LGBT be silenced about their protest of this hotel are all rich, privileged “business” people who have ONE agenda ….For us gays to start spending money at the hotel, because for rich gays like Theo, making money is FAR more important than the human rights of LGBT. It’s all about getting our pink dollars, and everyone moving along with their day as if LGBT aren’t treated like second class citizens all over this world (including this country). At the same time they demand we ignore the horrific incidents occurring to our community, they ask for hand outs, and in return, don’t lift a finger to uplift our rights.

  7. As a gay man I say the boycott has been misguided from the start. The hotel is run independently and has been a good friend of the gay community. Plus, lots of gay folks work there! The Beverly Hills Hotel recognized same-sex partnerships before gay marriage was legalized by recognizing and offering insurance to the same-sex partners of workers. It has donated facilities and money to our cause. It advertises openly that it welcomes same-sex wedding celebrations.

    But, they say, it’s owned by a country with Sharia Law. The United Arab Emerates, Saudi Arabia, Brunei, and many other countries with dubious human rights records, are heavily invested in the West, in hotels and movies, in Apple and Twitter, in Citigroup, Four Seasons and Fairmont hotels, Time Warner and Valentino to name a very few. In fact, Qatar Investment Authority (the sovereign wealth fund of the Sharia nation of Qatar) is the lead investor of Miramax Films.

    And I wonder, do Jay Leno or Ellen sleep on Egyptian cotton sheets?

  8. Blah, blah, blah. So then no one should ever boycott anything, and instead actually GIVE money to the homophobes, according to your “logic.” Utter insanity. You’d make a lovely Jew for Hitler. And you probably stock up at Chick-fll-A daily. They laugh all the way to the bank as we continue to subsidize them. Pardon me if I don’t follow your “logic.” And I pray a conciliatory wimp like you never makes it to Congress. Make room for someone who will fight for our community, not lay down and take it like a little bitch.

  9. Theo – wow the only person in the media who got this right. Out of tens of thousands of sources. Thank you!!!!!

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