After a brief exchange on Twitter this morning, Russell Crowe sent me a fairly rude message and blocked me. He called me a “pathetic bully”. This blog post is to put my side of the story.
I am partnered to a gay Bruneian – we’ve been in a long term relationship for a number of years. I’ve been to Brunei quite a few times, and Bruneian friends have come to visit and I have many friends there (straight, gay, lesbian etc). Most of the Bruneians live a happy comfortable life, but it is a different life from the one that we can live here in the UK. No Bruneian that I have ever met would ever admit publicly to being gay. There’s never any mention of sexuality on Facebook or Twitter – it is completely a taboo subject. There is certainly an element of fear and a complete acceptance that all communications are monitored by the authorities. I am aware of some of my LGBT friends getting in trouble with the authorities although I have been asked to not give any details, for fear they could get in even more trouble.
Brunei has never been a gay-friendly place. Previously, gay-related “crimes” would result in up to 10 years in prison. With the introduction of Sharia law, this sentence has increased to a potential death penalty, using stoning as the method (apparently the judge has to throw the first stone). My main concern with this is that it will increase fear in the LGBT community, reducing people’s abilities to live a free and happy life. Would someone who suffered a homophobic attack be comfortable to report this to the authorities?
Russell Crowe tweeted this morning that he didn’t support the boycott. I sent a few tweets questioning his concerns and putting my point across e.g. saying “extremely disappointed in your response.” My main concern is that he seemed to be saying that he would continue to enjoy the comforts of the luxury hotel, and ignore completely the concerns of LGBT people in Brunei who risk being stoned to death. I did check the dictionary definition of bullying and I according to the definition I read, I believe the only people being bullied in this story are the LGBT people of Brunei.
One argument that I have seen against the boycott in the last few days is that it will not hurt the Sultan, but will hurt the staff of the hotel group. Brunei is one of the richest states in the world, and has a near limitless supply of funds. The hotel group has said publicly that it will protect the income of staff:
“Dorchester Collection has guaranteed that all employee jobs are secure, and that wages (including service charges, gratuities and benefits) will be maintained despite any decline in business”.
So, in actual fact, there’s no risk to the hotel staff (and in my opinion a few months of fewer customers could lead them to having a nice stress-free summer).
Another argument against the boycott is that it won’t be effective because the Sultan doesn’t own the hotel group. I would argue that he does own the hotel group. I own a company and although the money is in the company bank account, at the end of the day I can get access to it and spend it, and I think the Sultan is in exactly the same position.
My last point is to those who say that it would be more effective to target oil companies or politicians directly. I believe it will be extremely difficult to change the Sultan’s mind on this point and that ultimately political pressure, internally and externally to Brunei is probably the best chance. However, the boycott is gaining media attention which could lead to an increase in political pressure, which cannot be a bad thing. To target oil companies (in this case, Shell) would be a much more difficult and impractical boycott. Oil in the form that we put in our cars is an essential commodity for many, whereas the luxuries of the DC hotel chain can easily be found elsewhere in their city locations.
I would urge all celebrities, politicians, people with influence in and out of Brunei, to get behind this boycott. It is, at this point in time, the best chance of a change.