Tim Cook’s ‘proud to be gay’ essay is important, historic and brave

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Two tickets to the gun show. Photo: Andy Ihnatko/Flickr
When Tim Cook talks, people listen. And that's a good thing. Photo: Andy Ihnatko/Flickr

Gay rights are the civil rights issue of our time, whether in the marriage chapel, the emergency room or the workplace.

That’s why Apple CEO Tim Cook’s decision to proclaim he is “proud to be gay” in a powerful personal essay is an important and truly historic act.

For far too long, being gay has been something that was often hidden or denied. It’s long overdue that being gay should be just another fact of life, like whether a person is tall or short, black or white, left-handed or right-handed, Mac or PC.

Incredibly, being gay is still illegal in about 80 countries around the world; in the U.S., Cook could legally be fired for being gay in 29 states.

By his own admission, he’s a reluctant figurehead, and he is taking a big professional risk by being one of the first leaders in the corporate world to speak up. When one of the world’s preeminent corporate leaders says he’s gay, it advances the cause of equality.

Cook’s essay for Businessweek got the Internet buzzing Thursday, with many people calling it inspirational. It’s personally brave of Cook to speak out on the issue. And what a great line he includes: “I consider being gay among the greatest gifts God has given me.”

It’s a compelling contribution to the conversation about gay rights.

Critics who say Cook should keep his sexuality private, or that he’s using the bully pulpit of his position as head of one of the world’s most powerful and influential companies to pursue a radical agenda, are missing the mark.

It’s entirely appropriate — and in fact, truly important — that public figures speak out on issues of injustice and inequality. There are few things worse than standing mutely by while injustice is perpetrated. What could be more fundamental to American democracy than speaking out on issues you believe in?

In the words of the great Martin Luther King Jr., one of Cook’s heroes, “There comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but he must take it because conscience tells him it is right.”

Let’s hope others follow Cook’s, and Apple’s, lead when it comes to standing up and speaking out for civil rights and equality for all.