April 17, 2014 | by Chris Johnson
Secret gay donor conference moved from Brunei-owned hotel
The Beverly Hills Hotel, Los Angeles, gay news, Washington Blade

A secret gay donor conference was moved from the Beverly Hills Hotel in Los Angeles. (Photo public domain)

The LGBT rights group behind the secret conference for high-dollar LGBT donors announced Thursday it has cancelled plans to hold the event at the Beverly Hills Hotel following news that its owner, the Sultan of Brunei, would institute a policy in his country to punish gay people with death by stoning.

The OutGiving conference, known this year as “Winning the Heartland,” was set as of Thursday to take place at the Beverly Hills Hotel from May 1-4, according to the registration website for the conference.

The hotel is owned by Sultan of Brunei Hassanal Bolkiah, who announced this month plans for his country to start punishing same-sex relations with death by stoning in addition to subjecting perpetuators of rape, adultery and extramarital sexual relations to the same punishment. That policy would be consistent with Islamic Sharia law in the predominately Muslim country.

After the Washington Blade raised the connection on Thursday with the Gill Action Fund, which organizes OutGiving, the organization said it had notified the hotel earlier in the day the conference would no longer take place at that location.

Kirk Fordham, executive director of Gill Action, informed the Blade that a new venue would be chosen in the aftermath of the announcement from the sultan of Brunei.

“In light of the horrific anti-gay policy approved by the Government of Brunei, Gill Action made the decision earlier today to relocate its conference from the Beverly Hills Hotel to another property,” Fordham said. “We are seeking a return of all deposits.“

The United Nations has already criticized the new policy in Brunei. Rupert Colville, spokesperson for the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights said, “Application of the death penalty for such a broad range of offences contravenes international law.”

Even before the latest policy announcement, Brunei had a law on the books unfavorable to gay people. Homosexual acts were punishable with up to 10 years in prison.

LGBT activists have previously targeted the Beverly Hills Hotel for its connections to Brunei and its anti-gay policy. Last year, the group Dump the Beverly Hills Hotel posted a quirky online video where individuals announced they were “breaking up” with the hotel unless its owners changed their homophobic ways.

Fordham didn’t immediately respond to a follow-up email asking why the Beverly Hills Hotel was chosen for OutGiving in the first place given the anti-gay policies of Brunei prior to the latest announcement and the criticism to which the hotel has been subjected.

The OutGiving conference is geared toward high-roller donors whose philanthropic giving each year exceeds $25,000 and who are interested in the LGBT movement. Tickets for this year’s conference are $1,750 per person. No media are permitted at the conference and attendees are told to keep the discussions during the conference a secret.

Leslie Lefkowitz, a spokesperson for the Beverly Hills Hotel, said in response to the OutGiving cancellation that conferences sometimes decide to change venues.

“In the hotel industry, it is not uncommon for organizations to change aspects of their corporate programs, including the scope, date and/or venues of planned events,” Lefkowitz said. “Anytime a valued business partner decides to alter their plans, we respect their right to do so and look forward to the next opportunity to be of service to them.”

During the 2012 OutGiving conference, which took place in D.C. at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel, speakers included former Republican National Committee chair Ken Mehlman; Prop 8 attorney Ted Olson; Mary Bonauto of Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders; U.S. congressional candidate Sean Eldridge; Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.); Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine); and Obama campaign manager David Plouffe.

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson attends the daily White House press briefings and is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

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