Apple's CEO and the successor to Steve Jobs was already out to many within the company and in Silicon Valley in general, but he hadn't been out publicly until now. In a very personal op-ed, Tim Cook discusses what he means by saying "being gay is among the greatest gifts God has given me."
Cook has generally followed in his predecessors footsteps in keeping his person life private, and keeping Apple away from controversial issues in which it is not directly involved. So while Cook's announcement in Bloomberg Businessweek may not come to a surprise to those in the tech community, especially the analysts and reporters who follow silicon valley, it is still definitely a surprise to the rest of us.
Why did Cook come out now? Well, there seems to be two very good reasons: the first is that it has become not just acceptable but increasingly expected for companies to openly support LGBT+ rights. Cook has already gone down that road with his comments on Alabama's hostile work environment for LGBT+ workers, and his general dissatisfaction with Apple's own corporate diversity.
Yet I also genuinely believe there is a personal side of this. Being able to be open about who you are (or to live as who you are) is incredibly important to health and happiness. Cook said he looked to the example of Martin Luther King, Jr. who asked people to think of what they were doing for others, and I definitely believe that was a factor—being and setting an example. However, living authentically and openly has personal benefits as well as benefits for those who are inspired.
For years, I've been open with many people about my sexual orientation. Plenty of colleagues at Apple know I'm gay, and it doesn't seem to make a difference in the way they treat me. Of course, I've had the good fortune to work at a company that loves creativity and innovation and knows it can only flourish when you embrace people's differences. Not everyone is so lucky.
The Apple CEO also writes that he doesn't consider himself an activist. He doesn't see himself in that role, but he also understands that while being gay has made him part of a minority, he also has been extraordinarily blessed. And indeed, that's true. He has a lot of privilege. He's incredibly smart and talented, and his position makes him very wealthy, and although he is gay (now, openly so), he's also cisgender, white, and a man. Yet I find that lacking any privilege (in this case, lacking heterosexual privilege) is a stepping stone to better understanding privileges you do have—and that others do not.
He also acknowledges that while some issues are progressing, like marriage equality, an appalling amount still remains the same.
The world has changed so much since I was a kid. America is moving toward marriage equality, and the public figures who have bravely come out have helped change perceptions and made our culture more tolerant. Still, there are laws on the books in a majority of states that 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. Countless people, particularly kids, face fear and abuse every day because of their sexual orientation.
Can the CEO of Apple coming out change all of that? No, but can the CEO of Apple himself influence the discourse? You're damn right. And while I know that Cook will be trying to walk a fine line between asserting his personal and professional beliefs and respecting that many of his customers may profoundly disagree with him, he cannot create the corporate culture he wants in places like Alabama where laws are not conducive to it. This puts profound pressure on states like Alabama (or on other countries) where Apple wants to set up shop to changes laws and policies or risk losing out on a huge chunk of change.
I wish it didn't have to come down to dollars and cents (or the local currency), but time and time again, civil rights movements have shown: it just don't pay to discriminate. And Apple's CEO is challenging its customers, its employees, and its governmental partners to remember that.
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