It was October 30, 2014. Tim Cook, deeply committed to his privacy, made himself vulnerable to the world by making a public statement affirming that he is “proud to be gay,” and considers it to be “among the greatest gifts God has given [him].” Cook, Chief Executive Officer of tech giant Apple, immediately became the first openly gay member of the Fortune 500 Club. His statement was incredibly inspirational to members of the LGBT community, as he knew it might be. In his own words, “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.” It is understandable why he would have waited so long to make a public statement. Most people have the luxury not to worry about what millions of people will think about our lifestyle. It is scary, and it is a risk, but as Cook realized before coming out, it is also important. It is not only important for those who are coming to terms with themselves, but also to those who are forced to confront their biases.
While Apple has always been supportive of human rights and equality for everyone, Cook as taken this mission personally. Some of his heroes are Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy, who sit in framed pictures in his office as a reminder every day to strive for human compassion and making the world a more equal and just place. For Cook, he is just doing his small part in helping humanity come closer to acceptance and equality for all.
Since coming out in October 2014, he has been publicly speaking out for gay and lesbian rights. Under his leadership, Apple has become one of the first major corporations to openly and publicly support the 2015 Equality Act, which would provide protection against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity, and sex in terms of employment, housing, and other basic human needs. Cook doesn’t see this so much as a gay or LGBT issue, but rather a human rights issue. He humbly recognizes that he has “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.” Many people in the LGBT+ community struggle, are kicked out of their housing or fired from their jobs for their sexual orientation of gender identity, and Cook knows that this is not acceptable and needs to be fought against.
More recently, he has also been standing up against the “religious freedom” laws which were passed in Indiana and Arkansas and discussed in as many as sixteen states. These laws would make it so that a business can legally turn away customers on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity due to the shopkeeper’s religious beliefs. These laws have been highly criticized by those who are supportive of LGBT+ issues and human rights issues in general. It has been criticized that these laws would be a return to the days of segregation, something that Cook speaks about in his Washington Post op-ed piece on the subject stating, “The days of segregation and discrimination marked by ‘Whites Only’ signs on shop doors, water fountains and restrooms must remain deep in our past. We must never return to any semblance of that time. America must be a land of opportunity for everyone.” He also assures that wherever in the world people are, whoever they are, “Apple is open. Open to everyone…. Regardless of what the law might allow in Indiana or Arkansas, we will never tolerate discrimination.”
Because of his work and devotion to gay and lesbian rights, he was nominated for the Human Rights Campaign’s Visibility Award and won it in October 2015, just one year after having publically come out. The award usually goes to someone who is in the LGBT+ community and is in a high-profile position, making Cook an ideal candidate. HRC President Chad Griffin said it best as he introduced Cook at the HRC’s national dinner as Cook won the award: “Through his example and Apple’s commitment to equality, LGBT young people in particular can look to Tim Cook’s incredible career and know that there is nothing holding them back.”
Our collective task is to reach out to all people who feel limited due to their differences and recognize, as Cook did, that “[creativity and innovation] can only flourish when you embrace people’s differences.”
Cook is definitely an inspiration to many. Not only has he been inspirational to the LGBT+ community at large, but he has also been incredibly supportive of his LGBT+ staff at Apple, even leading 8,000 of them in San Francisco’s Gay Pride Parade last June. His devotion to human rights is worthy of praise, and, as he has said, he “will personally continue to advocate for equality for all people until my toes point up.” Long live.