In a beautifully written personal essay, Apple CEO Tim Cook has just come out as gay, finally confirming rumors that have circulated since he took over as Steve Jobs’ replacement in 2011.
In the history-making essay for Businessweek (remember: this is one of the most powerful and influential businessmen in America, coming out as gay), Cook talks about the difficulty he had in making this decision, because he deeply values any slivers of privacy he can maintain.
Throughout my professional life, I’ve tried to maintain a basic level of privacy. I come from humble roots, and I don’t seek to draw attention to myself. Apple is already one of the most closely watched companies in the world, and I like keeping the focus on our products and the incredible things our customers achieve with them.
At the same time, 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?’ ” I often challenge myself with that question, and I’ve come to realize that my desire for personal privacy has been holding me back from doing something more important. That’s what has led me to today.
Cook goes on to stress that he has not been “closeted” in any meaningful way. He says he has been open with people about his sexual orientation for years within Apple, but that he ultimately realized he was only able to do so through “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.”
What eventually led him to come out, Cook says, was not whispering or rumors but the knowledge that being the gay CEO of the world’s most important and profitable tech company might give other outsiders (whether LGBT or not) hope.
I don’t consider myself an activist, but I realize how much I’ve benefited from the sacrifice of others. So if 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.
Cook’s sexual orientation isn’t likely to surprise anyone who has been paying attention. The Southern-born CEO has shown support for gay rights multiple times over the last few years, including the release of a video that specifically highlighted the importance of LGBT rights. Cook has also been named Out Magazine’s most powerful gay man in America four years in a row.
Even most analysts seem to have already known he was gay. On a CNBC panel discussion back in June, one of the co-hosts accidentally “outed” Cook (“I think Tim Cook is fairly open about the fact he’s gay at the head of Apple, isn’t he?”) only to seem surprised that more people hadn’t gotten the memo. Cook even made some veiled comments about the discrimination he faced as a gay man last December.
Personally, gay or straight, I’m proud to support a company with a conscientious, ethical CEO like Tim Cook running the show. I’m also proud to support a company where it is possible for an openly gay man to become boss. Now if only Apple could tackle the rest of its diversity problem.