Since the Obama administration can easily be considered the most LGBT-friendly in history, why is it considering rewarding the country of Brunei for implementing a law that allows gays to be stoned to death and women to be whipped for "disobedience"?
There's been a lot of coverage of the celebrity-led boycott of the Beverly Hills Hotel that's owned by the Sultan of Brunei, but the sad truth remains that it is only hurting the hotel's low wage employees that aren't working if the hotel is sitting empty. The Sultan could let that property sit vacant for the rest of his life while continuing to pay every single one of those employees double their normal wages and it wouldn't affect his bottom line in any real way.
That's not what the Sultan is doing though. Instead, like any business owner he's adjusted his staffing needs to match demand. No customers? No need to have several employees to cater to guest's needs. Low income workers who clean the rooms, check in guests, set up and tear down after events and conferences, catering staff, and security staff have all been told to stay home without pay.
The Sultan of Brunei is worth approximately $20 billion. The average hotel maid earns between $13,000-$20,000 a year. While the intentions are honorable, it's the most vulnerable who are being hurt the most by the boycott. Americans will have to think bigger if they want to make a dent in the Sultan's pocketbook.
Meanwhile, the Obama administration is considering giving the Sultan a big fat reward for violating his citizen's civil rights. In fact, the administration is willing to give up some of the tools in our arsenal for combating Brunei's human rights abuses.
The Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) is a free trade agreement between the US and 11 other countries that is being hammered out in secret by some of the world's biggest corporations and government negotiators. The LGBT community has many reasons to fight against the TPP - including that it would increase the cost of HIV/AIDS medications dramatically - but none are as easy to pinpoint as the Sultan of Brunei's embrace of Sharia law and the administration's willingness to overlook the systemic human rights abuses it entails.
One of the many jaw-dropping giveaways included in the TPP is a clause that could make it impossible for the federal government to enact sanctions against Brunei should they continue with the implementation and enforcement of this law. That's right, the TPP could limit the ability of federal, state, and local governments to respond when a signatory country, like Brunei, decides it wants to stone some gays to death or flog some "out of control" women.
119 members of Congress sent a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry in mid-June calling on the administration to drop Brunei from the trade agreement. The same day, several leading LGBT organizations followed up with their own letter saying, "It would be a mistake to enter into preferential trade agreements with countries that flagrantly flout human rights norms."
While the TPP is nothing more than a kickback for the rich investors who routinely fund both Democrats and Republicans and should be defeated in its entirety, the inclusion of Brunei as a signatory is a direct slap in the face for LGBT Americans.
"Targeting LGBT individuals or religious minorities and opening the door for discrimination and violence against women is a threat we cannot overlook, and should trade agreements like the TPP go into effect with the participation of human rights violators, the United States would lose its leverage to provide economic pressure on countries to reverse unacceptable policies," the members of congress wrote in their letter to Secretary Kerry. "As the world's largest economy, the United States holds a significant place in world affairs and must use this position to address human rights atrocities in countries like Brunei."
If not, no matter President Obama's history of supporting LGBT rights in America and worldwide, he'll go down in history as the President who bartered the lives of gays and lesbians for cheaper trinkets and more money for billionaires. Instead of the LGBT hero status he's earned, he'll be reduced to an international Reagan-like figure willing to let LGBT people die while he pokes his head in the sand.