Apple CEO Tim Cook wrote in Bloomberg Businessweek today that he is gay. He did not technically come out of the closet, but he had never stated that he was or was not gay. We should not need to live in a world where people need to spell this out, but frankly, we do. It made me tear up. I sincerely hope you all take the time to read it, and think about his words.
The most important part of Tim’s piece is:
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.
That is the value that is carried forward. He is a role model. Mark my words, there’s a kid somewhere, terrified of acknowledging a truth about themselves. It might be personal attacks that caused this fear, terror about being rejected by family, or just the ambient dread homophobic remarks affords us. Seeing a positive role model in Tim Cook, and seeing the acceptance, and love, his public announcement garners, helps quell those fears.
It is not acceptable to maintain that gay people should be inferior in any way. That they should feel guilt, or remorse. His announcement doubles-down (love you, Tim) on his previous statements. It is a sacrifice of his privacy, and it does make him a target for abuse. Many might look at this as a small thing. That it was an open secret, so no big deal, but he is the focus of intense scrutiny already, just for things like storage sizes, and iPad models. A focus on his life outside work is an even bigger burden to take on. Tim Cook is a prominent, global figure, not simply an American one. Imagine the whole world watching you. That is the downside to the tremendous example he sets for others. This benefits others. This benefits future generations.
He also specifically cites same-sex marriage:
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.
In 2008, the year Barack Obama won the election against John McCain, the California ballot measure Prop 8 passed. I don’t know how Tim felt at the time, but I certainly wasn’t happy. There was a futility to all of it. I sat through ads telling me to think of the children having to learn about gay people — I’m sure Tim saw them too. Would his eloquent entry have swayed the outcome then, even though he was COO? Would it have caused Apple more harm than good, and kept him from being in a position where he could go on to take this stand, as CEO? I don’t know. I don’t blame him. Everything’s moving forward. Anyone with an axe to grind with Tim over when he chose to make his public statement is simply not being productive.
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.
That speaks to me as well. That is not to say that being gay is a requirement for empathy, but it does give you a different lens to view the world through. It’s not the same experience others have, especially not as a white male, but it does make me question “traditional” opinions on matters of race, gender, sexual identity, etc. as archaic, and harmful to people, and society. Look for, and accept, the experiences of others. A lack of empathy, and sympathy, is troubling in the present-day. The people that make excuses for racism, that claim gender bias doesn’t exist, the ones that bend over backwards to claim victimhood for hurting others … those should not be the loudest voices in the room. Even ignoring their loud voices, not feeding the trolls, does not truly help with the pain inflicted on the targets. Making a firm stand, as Tim Cook has done, really shines a light on the ways in which we are all unequal.
Recent events, like GamerGate, seek to punish women. Matters of representation, and game development are distorted in to arguments explaining how women should feel, and explaining how it’s all about merit. Fair pay acts get shot down constantly. A female CEO, or politician is far more likely to be picked apart for what they’re wearing, and how they look, than any white-male counterpart.
Racism in this country is strong, and constant. Make no mistake about it, it is not a coincidence that Tim Cook so often cites Martin Luther King Jr. Racism is denied in words, but not in fact. Non-white people are looked down on in spite of success. President Barack Obama has long been pilloried in ways that debase him as a human being. Martin Luther King Jr. is paid lip service by many conservative pundits that turn right around and justify reducing voting early voting, and creating hurdles to register, specifically to oppress, and remove any opportunity for role models. It’s about the “best” candidates, you see, and the “best man” for the job.
Transgender men, and women — men and women — are often abused, assaulted, and killed in this country. Even in supposedly enlightened states. Try to imagine what a circus this country would turn in to if someone that was formerly a man or a woman ran for president. What horrible, debasing things would be said. If Tim Cook had written about having spent the first 20 years of his life as a women, would all the same Apple pundits throw in support for him? There is still a divide between people that will accept sex reassignment surgery and those that accept gays, or lesbians.
Tim Cook expressing his views on our basic humanity, and need to be respected, should be embraced by all.
I keep circling back around to how inspiring this was to read this morning. I can’t help it. I sure would have liked to just link to Tim’s writing last week when I explicitly stated on this blog that I am gay. I sure would have liked something like this years – decades ago. I am no role model, but I would have put his words front and center when thinking about how I fit in to the world around me, and my value.
As Casey Newton concluded today on The Verge:
And many still do, particularly younger people, and particularly younger people growing up in the more rural and religious parts of America. Someday, maybe someday soon, we’ll hear about how Cook’s essay today helped someone there through a difficult time. And then we’ll hear it again, and again, and again.
So “move on,” if Cook’s essay today makes you so uncomfortable. Return to talking about his fastidiousness, or his supply-chain management, or whatever. But there’s no moving on for me, not today. This I’m going to savor.