"I'm proud to be gay, and I consider being gay among the greatest gifts God has given me."
In a post published on Bloomberg Businessweek this morning, Apple CEO Tim Cook finally acknowledges what has been only whispered for so long: that he is gay. The fact that this is still such big news (and the source a subject of so much speculation until today) shows why, in this day and age, it is still important for members of the LGBT community to stand up and be visible. So why does it matter so much?
For one, Tim Cook is the CEO of one of the most powerful companies in the world. Having someone of his stature publicly declare his sexual orientation is still a rare occurrence in the business world, so much so that The New York Times recently ran a widely shared article asking "Where Are the Gay Executives?" Among other things, the article pointed out that it is still more common than not for LGBT workers to remain closeted at work, and that they also struggle to find mentors, both factors that can have a significant impact on career advancement. Tim Cook's declaration and his recent work addressing issues of inclusion send a message that discrimination and a lack of diversity will not be tolerated. Coming from the head of Apple, this is no small thing.
Second, Tim Cook's coming out immediately makes him a role model for countless gay youth to emulate. As Tim himself stated, "[I]f 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." The lack of role models in business is a real issue for LGBT executives, and the more that senior executives that can live their lives openly at work, the more opportunities for networking and mentoring there will be for younger workers within a company. Furthermore, statements of equality and inclusion at the top levels of a company are immediately noticed at all levels. Having an openly gay executive at the top level of a company advocating on issues of equality and diversity signals to all employees that they are welcome to be open as well.
Third, Tim Cook's announcement will make it easier for top LGBT executives at other companies who may be struggling with whether or not to come out themselves to take that leap. No doubt the response to Tim Cook's announcement will be observed closely at other companies. The way he has handled this, and the way this story is handled, will provide a blueprint for others weighing a similar declaration. Tim Cook's coming out will make it easier for others to follow in his path. As in other areas, such as entertainment and sports, each coming-out event makes the next one less sensational and newsworthy. Hopefully, others are taking note and preparing their own announcements as well.
Tim Cook's announcement matters not only because of Apple's business impact but because of its cultural impact. Few brands have infiltrated our lives as pervasively as Apple has. For a company like Apple to stand at the forefront of diversity and equality issues as well as embracing a prominent gay CEO sends a message to businesses that to succeed, you need to embrace diversity and equality. Tim Cook has instantly made himself a role model for countless gay youth who can now point to a successful openly gay businessman and say, "I can do it too."