“I believe deeply in the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, who said: ‘Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?’’”
-Tim Cook, CEO of Apple
As SFGN prepares for 2015, and celebrates its 5th anniversary, we are compelled to select our Person of the Year for 2014. Our choice must be Tim Cook, the extraordinary CEO of Apple. Earlier this year, in an op-ed in Bloomberg’s Business Week, Cook ‘came out’ in print. It was not that he had ever concealed his sexual identity to family, friends, or colleagues, but in this piece he shared it with the world.
“Being gay,” Cook wrote, “has given me the confidence to be myself, to follow my own path, and to rise above adversity and bigotry. It’s also given me the skin of a rhinoceros, which comes in handy when you’re the CEO of Apple.”
When the chief executive officer of a Fortune 500 company can comfortably assert his sexuality, America not only listens, we all grow in stature and substance. Apple though just isn’t a member of the Fortune 500, it is the most valuable company in the world.
As Cook appropriately noted, if hearing that a major business leader is open and out, “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 of his own privacy. After all, he was hiding nothing to begin with.
Psychologists who have studied the ‘coming out’ process say there are typically three stages of evolution, which starts with owning up to yourself, then your family and friends, and then your colleagues in the workplace. Supposedly, the last stage is the toughest. We understand it may be easier for you living in South Florida, but try South Dakota. The world is a small place, but in some venues, discrimination can still be very large. Only a year ago in Arizona a governor was debating whether to sign a bill into law, which would discriminate against homosexuals. Tim Cook and Apple spoke out against it, not so the Pope.
The Pope does influence millions, and his outreach towards the LGBT community has been commendable, but it has been tame and modest, with hints, innuendos and suggestions we are all not so bad as the Church has made us out to be.
Tim Cook, on the other hand, should be SFGN’s Person of the Year, not just because he has said he is one of us, but because by his words, he has opened the door for thousands of young Americans shielded by false secrets. Tim Cook, at 53, is helping tear down the burning crosses he grew up watching as an adolescent young boy in Alabama in the 1970’s.
Cook’s words in Business Week were simple and straightforward but forever will be etched into American history: “I’m proud to be gay, and I consider being gay among the greatest gifts God has given me.”
Tell that to the religious right which has been so wrong for so long- and the Pat Robertson’s of the world who declared for decades homosexuals gave us pestilence and famine, not world business leaders. Tell that to the Arab emirates who still whip and chain gays to submission. Tell that to the African nations who still pass laws threatening the lives and freedom of gay men. Tell that to the teenage bullies in high school who want to bully teenage gay kids with their fists.
The world is evolving and in parts and place discrimination is dissolving. Still, we can’t fool ourselves. Tolerance at home is still tempered by legislators who try to stop marriage equality. The majority of states still allow employers to fire people based solely on their sexual orientation. There are many places where landlords can evict tenants for being gay, or where we can be barred from visiting sick partners and sharing in their legacies. Tim Cook’s testimony will help put an end to those days.
The 1982 Auburn graduate with a degree in industrial engineering has a reason to be proud. He has gone on to address the United Nations and worldwide business communities. But his coming out column addressed citizens across the globe- not bad for a guy who earned a graduate business degree at Duke University.
Out and proud business guru Suze Orman echoed Cook’s words in a Huff Post interview earlier this year. As tough as it may be, she pointed out, "You'll never be powerful in life until you're willing to be totally honest about who you are." Whether you are Jodie Foster talking to the Academy of motion picture artists, or Anderson Cooper delivering news to America, authenticity is awareness. When you become your own Tim Cook, you disarm prejudice, you destroy myths, and you reach the mountaintop. You free yourself from who you were and you let yourself become who you can be.
Today some people say that there is no more closet to break out of, just a curtain to push aside. If that is so, if that is true, it was the impassioned pleas of the Harvey Milks who helped make that day come to pass. So too will it be the calm and collected words of Tim Cook that provide a comfort zone for the business leaders of tomorrow. Silence is an anchor that binds you, speaking out words that liberate you.
Tim Cook built his career as a behind-the-scenes operations expert, but now leads Apple into a new era, broadening the company's legendary laser focus, forged when Apple was a much smaller company. Challenged by Google, Android, and Samsung, Apple is no longer the underdog that Steve Jobs rescued from the brink of bankruptcy. It is a world leader in technology, and it now has as its world leader a gay man in charge.
That is something we can all be proud of. That is the reason Tim Cook should and must be SFGN’s ‘Person of the Year.’