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Travel groups, celebrities over gay sex law

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The Sultan of Brunei might be planning to buy New York’s iconic Plaza Hotel, but human rights activists don’t want him to check in there or anywhere else.
(USA TODAY, USA NOW)

Influential travel industry members and celebrities like Ellen DeGeneres and George Clooney are shunning Brunei-owned hotels and Royal Brunei Airlines over the country’s controversial law that punishes gay sex and adultery.

New Islamic criminal laws took effect in Brunei on Wednesday, one of which punishes gay sex and adultery by stoning offenders to death under new sections of Brunei’s Shariah Penal Code. Thieves face amputation of a right hand on their first offense and a left foot on their second. The new laws also apply to children and foreigners, even if they are not Muslim.

The man behind the anti-gay law in the Southeast Asian country is Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah, who owns Dorchester Collection hotel group, which owns properties including The Bel-Air and The Beverly Hills Hotel.

STA Travel, a worldwide student and youth travel company, announced it would stop selling tickets on Royal Brunei Airlines.

The organization posted on Twitter: “In protest at recent changes to the law in Brunei (also applicable on Brunei-registered aircraft and vessels), we’re proud to announce that STA Travel has stopped selling tickets on Royal Brunei Airlines. #bruneiboycott

According to Reuters, Royal Brunei Airlines has partnerships with approximately 40 airlines. USA TODAY has reached out to several of them, as well as Royal Brunei, for comment. 

One of these airlines with a one-way interline agreement, British Airways, told USA TODAY in a statement: “As a global airline, with a diverse base of customers and colleagues, inclusion and equality is key to delivering a better service for our customers, and to enable an open and welcoming culture for all our colleagues. We keep all our agreements under constant review.”

Transport for London, the London metropolitan area’s transportation service, is ending its Brunei tourism advertising campaign. The group told USA TODAY in a statement: “The advertisement was considered compliant with our advertising policy when it was submitted and accepted. However, given recent information that has come to light, it is clear that this is an issue of great public sensitivity and controversy so the advert will be removed from our network. Any proposed future campaign would be reviewed against our advertising policy, and this information would be considered in any decision.”

DeGeneres, for her part, encouraged her followers to boycott Brunei-owned hotels, sharing a list of hotels in the United States and Europe to social media Tuesday with a passionate message.

“Tomorrow, the country of Brunei will start stoning gay people to death. We need to do something now. Please boycott these hotels owned by the Sultan of Brunei,” she wrote. “Raise your voices now. Spread the word. Rise up.”

Brian Kelly, aka The Points Guy, wrote in an Instagram post: “While we can’t change laws, as consumers we can speak with our wallets. The Sultan of Brunei owns these luxury hotels and every time you stay there your money lines his pockets. Raise your voices now.”

Other celebrities speaking out include Ellen Pompeo from “Grey’s Anatomy,” pop icon Elton John and “Queer Eye” stars Bobby Berk and Jonathan Van Ness.

Pop star Dua Lipa joined the chorus of voices on Thursday. She wrote in a tweet: “Gay rights are human rights. Boycott the the industries and the people that believe in inhumane anti LGBT+ laws. Taking a stand today and forever to show support. The fight is never over we’re only scratching the surface but we need to be louder than ever. #BoycottBrunei”

Amnesty International and other rights groups have also slammed the new laws.

Contributing: Sara Moniuszko

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