Apple CEO Tim Cook has confirmed one of the worst kept secrets in tech, coming out of the closet in a column in Bloomberg Businessweek. Saying that he has never hidden his sexual orientation from friends or colleagues, he was a private person and preferred not to talk about it publicly.
Now, he is publicly acknowledging his homosexuality because he feels that the trade-off with his privacy is worthwhile if it can “bring comfort to anyone who feels alone” or who is “struggling to come to terms with who he or she is.”
Apple is no fear of corporate activism, publicly supporting a number of pro-equality causes, including issuing a statement to the Supreme Court giving support to marriage equality and donating $100,000 to the “No on 8” campaign to allow same-sex marriage in California.
Earlier this year, Apple and a number of other large companies participated in San Francisco’s annual Gay Pride parade, with more than 5,000 Apple employees and their family members marching.
Many CEOs attempt to keep their work and personal lives separate, and it is generally accepted that what a CEO does in his or her own time is their business, so long as it’s not illegal and doesn’t affect the company. In Cook’s case, his sexuality has long been rumored — indeed, Out Magazine has named Cook one of its 50 most powerful gays for several years in a row.
I noted on Twitter that Cook’s sexuality will matter a great deal to a relatively small number of people who are either thrilled or disappointed with his announcement. For most of the rest of us, it’s a historical footnote, one that won’t affect our feelings towards Apple or Cook in any way, except to acknowledge his status as a pioneer in shattering the glass closet, so to speak.
Cook himself notes this as well, arguing that “part of social progress is understanding that a person is not defined only by one’s sexuality, race, or gender.” In other words, Cook doesn’t want to be “the gay CEO.” Instead, he says he’s simply “focused on being the best CEO I can be.”
Many will see this as a landmark event in gay rights, and it is, though Cook is certainly not the first gay CEO of a major corporation — he’s just the first to stand up and announce it publicly. Hopefully, others will come forward and not be afraid to be who they are, and their shareholders and customers will look past who they might fall in love with and judge them solely on their abilities as an executive.
Cook finished his column by noting that he has photos of Dr. Martin Luther King and Robert F. Kennedy in his office, saying that he’s merely doing his part to help others. “We pave the sunlit path toward justice together,” Cook wrote. “Brick by brick. This is my brick.”
Bravo, Mr. Cook. Now, let’s all get back to work.