Soon, we will we be getting married in Britain, with our two gorgeous sons there to see their dads make a solemn commitment to each other. As we stand there at the aisle and look over at them, I know it will cross our minds that when we were their age, it would have been impossible for two men to even think of marriage. Indeed, gay people at that time were lucky to stay out of jail. In our lifetimes the world has changed in extraordinary ways, thanks to millions of gay men and women who took the tough, brave decision to come out, and millions more straight people who responded with compassion and love.
So it’s disturbing to realize that even as gay people are emerging blinking into the light all around us, across much of the world, other gay people are being pushed deeper into the darkness. We are in the middle of an extraordinary renewed crackdown on gay people, from Uganda to Russia to Iraq. It is all the more disturbing, then, to realize that one of the places we most love is owned by a man who is at the forefront of this renewed and horrifying homophobia.
The Sultan of Brunei is the unelected ruler of his small East Asian country. He also owns the Beverley Hills Hotel, the Hotel Bel-Air, and the Dorchester Group of hotels. It recently emerged that in Brunei he is introducing a particularly extreme form of shariah law — one where gay people will be stoned to death.
So if we lived in Brunei, as of next year, we wouldn’t be getting married in front of our sons. We’d be getting beaten to death, with objects, by a mob arranged and authorized by the government.
We have stayed at the Beverley Hills Hotel for years, and its staff — many of whom are gay — have always treated us with great kindness and compassion. They have welcomed us and our children with big open arms. These men and women have served the Sultan loyally for years, and made him and his hotel run exceptionally well. I can’t imagine how they feel today, to discover that their boss is making their sexuality punishable by death.
We won’t be using any of his hotels if he proceeds with this shocking decision. We urge other people to sign up to the ‘Dump the Beverley Hills Hotel’ campaign, in solidarity with the gay people of Brunei, whose terror we can only guess at.
We don’t do this lightly — we’re aware of the paradoxical effect this boycott will have on those loyal staff members we know so well. Isn’t it ironic that the hotel service industry has historically been well served by legions of hard working LGBT people for centuries? They often excel at the service industry, and the Sultan must know they are a massive asset to his operations. He will have seen first hand the hard work and dedication that his LGBT staff members have brought to their jobs over the years. How can he possibly single them out and condemn them to death in his own country?
Within his hotels, LGBT and straight employees have stood shoulder-to-shoulder and worked harmoniously for as long as we have been going there — and long before. Their hard work and commitment to excellence has made his luxury hotels the massive successes they are today. It saddens us that this boycott will hurt all of these wonderful people.
However, given a choice between defending the jobs of people in the West and the lives of gay people in Brunei who will otherwise be violently murdered, we must choose to defend life.
More than this, the debate surrounding this tragic affair has prompted us to reflect on a deeper question. Over the past thirty years, the world has become connected in ways that seemed as unimaginable as gay marriage when we were kids. There are, it seems to us, two new kinds of connection. The first is financial and commercial. Money and goods and migrants are circling across the world faster than ever before — you will be reading this on a screen assembled in China, with metals from Africa, sold in Europe or North America, and on and on.
The second kind of connection is emotional. Teenagers have friends all over the world on Facebook, and chat to them on Skype with the ease that they talk to a kid across the street. We can speak to people across continents in ways that would have seemed like a sci-fi dream just a generation ago. Until now, these two kinds of connection have continued on separate tracks – as if they were ships passing in the night. But they are starting to converge.
People like the Sultan of Brunei, or the owners of Chick-Fil-A, or Vladimir Putin when he organized the Sochi Olympics, believed that they could benefit from the new financial connectedness of the world, while ignoring the new emotional connectedness. They thought — in short — that we would buy their goods and ignore their victims.
But we can’t, and we won’t. We can’t lie in a suite at the Beverley Hills and ignore the fact that hotel is stained with the blood of gay people. We can’t drink Russian vodka and forget the tears of Russian gay people. And millions more people are starting to seek out the connections between the corporations they buy from and the actions of these corporations across the world.
This process will only speed up from here on in. In an age of Skype and Twitter, nowhere is foreign, and nowhere is far away — so screams carry very fast. If you are a business owner and you believe you can persecute gay people — or any other minority group — and expect people to buy from you blindly, then you had better think again. There is a whole raft of wonderful organizations that are monitoring these abuses and giving people a way to fight back: we’d recommend in particular AllOut.org.
We can only get married because millions of people took a stand to defend and protect us. The gay people of Brunei — and Russia, and Uganda, and many other countries — need us to take another stand today. This is about the hotels owned by the Sultan of Brunei, but it is also about so much more. It’s about how the planet is becoming morally and emotionally connected in ways that can change the world.
You throw a stone at a gay man in Brunei, and it lands in Beverley Hills. If we respond by throwing back our hearts — and our hope, and our love — who knows where it will land, and what it will achieve?
– Sir Elton John and David Furnish for Huffington Post
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