In response to the recent Beverly Hills protests of hotel properties owned by the sultan of Brunei, which were spurred by the sultan’s phasing in of laws that punish homosexuality and adultery with stoning, The Hollywood Reporter sent a writer to the Southeast Asian nation to investigate the situation for gay people on the ground. Here are eight things Out Traveler learned about Brunei from this undercover report, "48 Hours in Brunei: Hollywood Reporter Infiltrates the Underground Gay Scene":
1. Royal Brunei Airways broadcasts Muslim prayers, “some sort of supplication for safe travel, I can only guess,” says reporter Patrick Brzeski, as well as episodes of Friends. A graphic of an arrow on the monitor shows the direction to Mecca.
2. Brunei has a structure called Billionth Barrel Monument, “a towering four-pillared arabesque statue built by the sultan in 1991,” which honors the region’s lucrative oil industry.
3. “Despite a total blackout in local media,” everyone in Brunei who spoke with Brzeski is aware of the Los Angeles protests about the phasing in of sharia law, though no one discusses it openly.
4. Every gas station in Brunei is Shell, and at the time of the reporter’s visit, the cost was about $1.64 a gallon, which was cheaper than a one-liter bottle of water at the gas station’s convenience store.
5. The sultan’s son, Prince Azim, is a paparazzi favorite and a producer, whose recent projects include a Cannes Film Festival entry starring Hilary Swank.
6. In Brunei, it’s widely perceived that the sultan’s group of friends includes gay people and often violates sharia law by drinking alcohol. “It's an open secret that [people in the sultan's circle] are gay,” says “James,” a gay native who spoke with The Hollywood Reporter. "The people that are supposed to set the example have broken the law all over the place. They don't follow the teachings, so why should we? Everyone knows they drink as well, but alcohol is illegal here."
This perception leads many to think that harsher punishments, such as the stoning of gays and adulterers, won’t be implemented. The common consensus among those interviewed was “provided gays keep their ‘situation’ private, nobody will get stoned.”
7. There are a few underground gay bars and even dance clubs, but there used to be more, as “most have been raided in recent months.” At present, many gay people are “lying low” as a result.
8. Most gay people use Grindr, a popular hookup app, to connect for gatherings at private residences. A 22-year-old gay man wrote the following letter to Brzeski:
"Mostly we are discreet and we need to hide our gay identity. We use Grindr -- it's very popular. Inside Grindr, Bruneians are careful and choosy. Sometimes people make private parties -- mostly gay artists and celebrities in Brunei do that. We are in a conservative Islamic country, so we need to be careful. There's no holding hands in public -- this is a Malay Islamic monarchy. We just have to follow one rule: Don't put it out there. It may sound hypocritical from me, but I'm a Muslim. I respect the new law and I support it. Because what I'm doing now, as a gay, it's not right for me to do. It's against the religion. But I have to, because it just came to me. I believe I will go to hell. Sometimes I want to change to be straight -- I've tried -- but I can't. Most of the people I have dated are married people with kids. We have this secret. What to do?"