Much was made of the announcement, back in 2014, when Tim Cook came out publicly as gay in Bloomberg Business. It wasn’t gushy or glamorous, nor was it apologetic. It was an affirmation: “I’m proud to be gay,” he wrote, “and I consider being gay among the greatest gifts God has give me.”
This was a big step for an otherwise private man. But as he told Stephen Colbert on the Late Show — and others in interviews following his Bloomberg editorial — coming out as a gay man and high-profile CEO was more important than personal privacy.
People were hurting, he noted. He needed to acknowledge the work done before him by gay individuals that allowed him to succeed, and send a message to younger generations that his homosexuality was an advantage, not a problem.
I guess what I’m saying is this: As an openly gay man, immersed in the business world, I originally hoped for a louder champion. Cook didn’t exactly deliver, and while I was initially disappointed, I have come to see his approach in a different light.
There was a time when the LGBT+ community needed outspoken advocates in every corner. In many places, few could be found, so those who emerged had to speak all the more loudly.
Today, society has moved ahead. No, LGBT+ individuals are not universally accepted, but increasingly, we’re allowed to be our unedited selves without fear of aggression or prejudice. Cook seems to understand this well, knowing that while advocacy work is not finished, it seldom requires a bullhorn.
In fact, a better approach is often keeping the equality conversation top of mind while reminding the world that LGBT+ people are, in fact, people. We have interests, skills, needs, experiences, passions — entire lives that are not dictated by our sexuality.
And so, Cook is Cook. He spends monumental energy shaping and directing Apple, earning media share for his decisions and taking the spotlight owing to his position as a giant in the tech world. He does it so well, we have come to say: Tim Cook? He’s the CEO of Apple. He’s been involved in politics and took center-stage during privacy discussions. He’s championed green reforms in the Apple universe and beyond. Oh, and he’s gay.
I think that’s the best kind of model — and advocate — we need right now.