With so many same-sex couples marrying, and the rest of us, queer and straight, going to their weddings, it’s easy to think that coming out not only has little or no news value but is almost passé.
With openly LGBT people serving in the military and in Congress; more out actors and celebs than you can count; several well-known gay and lesbian news anchors; and even a few openly queer sports and religious figures – it’s tempting to wonder if the “big reveal” still has much impact. Until, that is, the head of one of the five biggest companies in the United States comes out – as Apple CEO Tim Cook did last week.
We like to think that, “It’s getting better.” We dare to believe, with same-sex marriage now legal in 32 states from Alaska to Nevada to Virginia, that it’s no big deal any more whether you’re LGBT or straight. Yet, Cook’s announcement on Oct. 30 that he is gay was huge news. Despite all of our era’s gay glam and glitz — from Neil Patrick Harris’s wedding to David Burtka to the Human Rights Campaign’s recent star-studded fundraising dinner — on Oct. 30, Cook was the first Fortune 500 company CEO to reveal that he’s gay.
Cook’s revelation of his sexual orientation wasn’t surprising. The media from Gawker to CNBC have noted the rumors that Cook is gay. In 2013, “Out” magazine ranked him No. 1 on its list of the most powerful LGBT people that year. What surprised and moved me was the commitment to diversity and justice that permeated Cook’s coming out announcement in a piece he wrote for “Bloomberg Businessweek.”
For years, he was open about his sexual orientation and many of his Apple colleagues knew he was gay, Cook said in his “Bloomberg” essay. “Of course, I’ve had the good fortune to work at a company that … knows it can only flourish when you embrace people’s differences,” he wrote. “Not everyone is so lucky.”
Though he’d never denied his sexual orientation, he hadn’t, until now, publicly come out, Cook noted in the piece. “So let me be clear,” he wrote, “I’m proud to be gay, and I consider being gay among the greatest gifts God has given me.”
Cook doesn’t claim to be an activist, and like so many of us queer or hetero, he’d rather not have his professional and personal life reduced to his sexual orientation. In addition to being gay, Cook wrote, “I’m an engineer, an uncle, a nature lover, a fitness nut, a son of the South, a sports fanatic, and many other things.”
But, “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 added.
Cook’s coming out is a cause for celebration and a wake-up call for the LGBT community and our allies. In his “Bloomberg” piece, which invokes Martin Luther King, Jr., Cook reminds us that even as marriage equality rapidly becomes a reality, homophobia still exists. “There are laws on the books in a majority of states (29 according to the Human Rights Campaign) that allow employers to fire people based solely on their sexual orientation,” he wrote. “Countless people, particularly kids, face fear and abuse every day.”
Ironies surround Cook’s coming out. Apple works with some of the more than 70 countries that don’t respect LGBT rights. Russia on hearing that Cook is gay, demolished its monument to the late Apple leader Steve Jobs. Right-wing Sen. Ted Cruz disputes the constitutionality of gay rights but says “I love my iPhone … Cook makes his personal decisions and that is his life.”
Injustice won’t be righted easily. But Tim Cook’s honesty and commitment will greatly help the fight for justice.
Kathi Wolfe, a writer and poet, is a regular contributor to the Blade.