Last week, Apple CEO Tim Cook announced in a Bloomberg BusinessWeek op-ed that he is gay. Cook’s sexual orientation was an open secret in the LGBT and tech worlds — he’s been on Out Magazine’s list of the 50 most powerful LGBT people in America for the last four years, and CNBC anchor Simon Hobbs even outed him on-air in June. But the disclosure nevertheless marked the first time that Cook publicly addressed his sexuality in his own words.
And what powerful words they were! “[L]et me be clear,” Cook wrote, “I’m proud to be gay, and I consider being gay among the greatest gifts God has given me.” He explained that his experience as a gay man provides him with an understanding about what it means to be a member of an oppressed minority group and gives him a degree of empathy for the suffering of people in other minority groups that he wouldn’t have otherwise had.
Cook added that he’s always been a private person, but that he chose to go public about his sexuality because of the debt he owes to those in the LGBT civil rights movement who paved the way for him, and because he realized that disclosing his truth could give hope to others:
“[I]f hearing that the CEO of Apple is gay can help someone struggling to come to terms with who he or she is, or bring comfort to anyone who feels alone, or inspire people to insist on their equality, then it’s worth the trade-off with my own privacy.”
Predictably, though, many members of the LGBT community reacted to the news with cynical yawns. Big deal, countless friends said on social media. Everyone knew already. Old news. He should have done it sooner. But reactions like this are misplaced.
For starters, Cook’s disclosure makes him the first openly gay CEO of a Fortune 500 company. Apple’s reach is far and wide — it’s one of history’s most powerful and valuable companies and one of the world’s most ubiquitous brands, with customers across the globe, including in many countries where homosexuality is criminalized. By coming out, Cook won’t become just a role model to struggling queers and shape conversations about LGBT rights in the U.S. — he’ll become one all around the world.
Furthermore, Cook used his coming-out as an opportunity to highlight issues like workplace and housing discrimination — issues that directly affect the lives of tens of thousands of LGBT people across the U.S., but that have struggled to capture the media attention and momentum of the marriage equality fight. He made it clear that Apple, which is already a pro-equality leader in the corporate world, will continue to push for human rights for all people.
Finally, I’d like to address the “he should have done it sooner” charge. Yes, Tim Cook is a man of extraordinary privilege, but we’ve never walked in his shoes. We don’t know his journey or the emotional obstacles he’s had to overcome to get to this point. How sad is it that some of us are so quick to forget what an intensely personal, intimate decision coming out is — no matter who we are. Armchair quarterbacking and complaining about how, when, and where someone chooses to do it is ugly and petty.
So instead of rolling our eyes or shrugging our shoulders, let’s be glad that Tim Cook has found his voice as an out gay man, and let’s welcome him into the out and proud LGBT community. Simply by living his truth, Cook is providing a powerful example for the world, and for LGBT youth in particular — and our community is the richer for it.