Courage on Display

We got to witness great courage today.  Tim Cook, CEO of Apple, wrote an essay in Bloomberg Businessweek in which he told the world that he is gay.  For people living where I do – the San Francisco Bay Area – I suspect that learning that Apple’s CEO is gay generally is met by a “who cares?” attitude.  This is a locality that has led the nation in acceptance of the LGBT community.  In fact, both of my daughters view equality regardless of sexual orientation to be a basic human right.  But the entire nation – the entire world – is not San Francisco, and Mr. Cook’s decision to share with the world his own sexual orientation took great courage.

Tim Cook, as the CEO of the most valuable corporation in the world, had little enough privacy before today.  Now, he will have even less. In some places, he will will probably never again be discussed without mentioning that he is also gay – some writers writing possibly about him and others negatively.  Either way, he will never again simply be a businessman.  Now, he is an icon and a lightning rod.

He is also, as he wrote in his essay, a son of the South.  He grew up in rural Alabama, attended college at Auburn and earned an MBA at Duke.  For all of its wonderful qualities, he knows well how closed-minded and bigoted that section of our nation can be.  Just last week, he was inducted into the Alabama Academy of Honor in the same ceremony in which Alabama football coach Nick Saban received the same honor.  In his acceptance speech last week, Mr. Cook highlighted the parallels between equality based on race, equality based on religion, and equality based on sexual orientation.  He called on his native state to learn from the past in which Alabama was very slow to recognize equal rights for blacks and condemn discrimination based on religion.  Cook challenged his home state to do better on gay rights issues, saying the state is still too slow on equality and legal protections for the LGBT community.

I have copied the entire essay below, and I highly recommend everyone to read it.

Tim Cook Speaks Up

October 30, 2014

Tim Cook Speaks Up

Photograph by Ashley Gilbertson for Bloomberg Businessweek

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.

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.

While I have never denied my sexuality, I haven’t publicly acknowledged it either, until now. So let me be clear: I’m proud to be gay, and I consider being gay among the greatest gifts God has given me.

Being gay has given me a deeper understanding of what it means to be in the minority and provided a window into the challenges that people in other minority groups deal with every day. It’s made me more empathetic, which has led to a richer life. It’s been tough and uncomfortable at times, but it 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.

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.

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.

I’ll admit that this wasn’t an easy choice. Privacy remains important to me, and I’d like to hold on to a small amount of it. I’ve made Apple my life’s work, and I will continue to spend virtually all of my waking time focused on being the best CEO I can be. That’s what our employees deserve—and our customers, developers, shareholders, and supplier partners deserve it, too. Part of social progress is understanding that a person is not defined only by one’s sexuality, race, or gender. I’m an engineer, an uncle, a nature lover, a fitness nut, a son of the South, a sports fanatic, and many other things. I hope that people will respect my desire to focus on the things I’m best suited for and the work that brings me joy.

The company I am so fortunate to lead has long advocated for human rights and equality for all. We’ve taken a strong stand in support of a workplace equality bill before Congress, just as we stood for marriage equality in our home state of California. And we spoke up in Arizona when that state’s legislature passed a discriminatory bill targeting the gay community. We’ll continue to fight for our values, and I believe that any CEO of this incredible company, regardless of race, gender, or sexual orientation, would do the same. And I will personally continue to advocate for equality for all people until my toes point up.

When I arrive in my office each morning, I’m greeted by framed photos of Dr. King and Robert F. Kennedy. I don’t pretend that writing this puts me in their league. All it does is allow me to look at those pictures and know that I’m doing my part, however small, to help others. We pave the sunlit path toward justice together, brick by brick. This is my brick.

Tim Cook is the CEO of Apple.

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4 responses to “Courage on Display”

  1. John Burnette says :

    OK, for the 15 people in the country that hadn’t already heard, Tim Cook is gay.

    But I’m not sure about evoking the memory of Dr King regarding gay rights. African American ministers, especially Baptist ones, still tend to be determined in their opposition to same-sex marriage. Interestingly, in the last few election cycles this has become THE wedge issue Republicans have used to try and pry support away from Democratic candidates. Just two years ago my own state of NC thoughtfully amended out state constitution to “define” marriage and prohibit recognition of same sex marriages. As near as I can tell, I was the only teacher at my school opposed to the amendment — but then again they didn’t appreciate my challenging to provide a legal definition of “man” or “woman” either. I digress.

    Dr King was affiliated with the Progressive National Baptist Church. Despite their name, their convention’s recent statement made their position clear:

    “The National Baptist Convention, USA, Incorporated does not dictate to its constituent churches what position to take on issues because we believe in the autonomy of the local church. However, the National Baptist Convention, USA, Inc. affirms that marriage is a sacred biblical covenant between a man and a woman.”

    Not what I would call especially “progressive”.

    Dr King himself made almost no mention of homosexuality, probably not surprising as most states had legal statues outlawing it at the time. There is only one recorded mention of homosexuality from MLK, and it seems to suggest that he would have fallen under the “pray the gay away” banner.

    • Graham Burnette says :

      I think you are completely right that it is not possible to discern what a person from one era would think about the hot issues of another era. After all, many of the founding fathers, who left us the legacy that guarantees rights for all, owned slaves and failed to see the contradiction between that and declaring the equality of all to be self evident.

      So, we have no idea what Dr. King or Bobby Kennedy would have thought about gay rights. But we do know that the both worked tirelessly to gain recognition and rights for those that society had previously failed to recognize and failed to provide rights.

      • John Burnette says :

        You’re being too gentle on the founding fathers. I doubt that they failed to see the contradictions, I think the worked heroically to ignore those contractions.

        It’s true that Dr King was from another era, and I’d like to believe that his opinions would have evolved over the intervening 50 years – after all his wife has become a champion of gay rights — but his fellow ministers have stubbornly resisted change in this area.

  2. Cricri says :

    I love the fact that young gay people has now some serious role model far from the caricature

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