Last Monday, Apple CEO and Alabama native Tim Cook was inducted along with seven others into the Alabama Academy of Honor. Cook took the opportunity to challenge Alabama to do better with LGBT equality. He said that Alabama was too slow to guarantee the rights of minorities during the civil rights era, and now it's too slow to ensure the rights of people based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
Speaking at the Capitol in the chamber where the state voted to secede from the Union in 1861, Cook said Alabama and the nation "have a long way to go" before realizing Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s dream of equality. Alabama was "too slow" to guarantee rights in the 1960s, Cook said, and "still too slow on equality for the LGBT community. Under the law, citizens of Alabama can still be fired based on their sexual orientation" Cook went further and stated that "We can't change the past, but we can learn from it and we can create a different future."
On Thursday October 30, 2014, Cook published the following message in BusinessWeek:
Throughout my professional life, I’ve tried to maintain a basic level of privacy. I come from humble roots, and I don’t seek to draw attention to myself. Apple is already one of the most closely watched companies in the world, and I like keeping the focus on our products and the incredible things our customers achieve with them.
At the same time, I believe deeply in the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, who said: “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?’ ” I often challenge myself with that question, and I’ve come to realize that my desire for personal privacy has been holding me back from doing something more important. That’s what has led me to today.
For years, I’ve been open with many people about my sexual orientation. Plenty of colleagues at Apple know I’m gay, and it doesn’t seem to make a difference in the way they treat me. Of course, I’ve 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.
While I have never denied my sexuality, I haven’t publicly acknowledged it either, until now. So let me be clear: I’m proud to be gay, and I consider being gay among the greatest gifts God has given me.
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. It’s also given me the skin of a rhinoceros, which comes in handy when you’re the CEO of Apple.
The world has changed so much since I was a kid. 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. Still, there are laws on the books in a majority of states that allow employers to fire people based solely on their sexual orientation. There are many places where landlords can evict tenants for being gay, or where we can be barred from visiting sick partners and sharing in their legacies. Countless people, particularly kids, face fear and abuse every day because of their sexual orientation.
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.
I’ll admit that this wasn’t an easy choice. Privacy remains important to me, and I’d like to hold on to a small amount of it. I’ve made Apple my life’s work, and I will continue to spend virtually all of my waking time focused on being the best CEO I can be. That’s what our employees deserve—and our customers, developers, shareholders, and supplier partners deserve it, too. Part of social progress is understanding that a person is not defined only by one’s sexuality, race, or gender. I’m an engineer, an uncle, a nature lover, a fitness nut, a son of the South, a sports fanatic, and many other things. I hope that people will respect my desire to focus on the things I’m best suited for and the work that brings me joy.
The company I am so fortunate to lead has long advocated for human rights and equality for all. We’ve taken a strong stand in support of a workplace equality bill before Congress, just as we stood for marriage equality in our home state of California. And we spoke up in Arizona when that state’s legislature passed a discriminatory bill targeting the gay community. We’ll continue to fight for our values, and I believe that any CEO of this incredible company, regardless of race, gender, or sexual orientation, would do the same. And I will personally continue to advocate for equality for all people until my toes point up.
When I arrive in my office each morning, I’m greeted by framed photos of Dr. King and Robert F. Kennedy. I don’t pretend that writing this puts me in their league. All it does is allow me to look at those pictures and know that I’m doing my part, however small, to help others. We pave the sunlit path toward justice together, brick by brick. This is my brick.
The Apple CEO's announcement on Thursday that he is gay and wants to help further civil rights found strong support in some quarters, but his advocacy met less enthusiasm among some people in Alabama, where he was born and raised.
In socially conservative Alabama, where gay marriage remains illegal and workers can lawfully be fired on the basis of their sexual orientation, some said they wish the Apple executive had kept his sexual orientation private. However, I am very glad he came forward. In a world where money and power speaks, the advantages that Apple can provide makes Cook a very powerful spokesman for the LGBT community.
As mentioned earlier, when inducted on Monday into the Alabama Academy of Honor, Cook made comments critical of the state’s progress on rights for gays and minorities. Alabama Governor Robert Bentley, a Republican and opponent of same-sex marriage, said afterward that he objected to connections Cook drew in his induction speech between the civil rights movement and gay rights, the Anniston Star newspaper reported. "I don't connect those two, and in fact I don't think the African-American community connects those two either," Bentley said, according to the newspaper. I have always connected equality for one with equality for all, and I can only hope that Bentley loses the governor's race in tomorrow's election, though it is highly doubtful since the Alabama Democratic Party placed a weak candidate in the race. Bentley's opponent is actually a "former" Republican.
Birmingham-based state Representative Patricia Todd, a Democrat who is Alabama's sole openly gay lawmaker, said she drew strength from Cook's announcement, made in an article he wrote in Bloomberg Businessweek. Todd said the prospects for a bill she plans to reintroduce next year to legalize gay marriage will be strengthened by Cook's example. "I'm tickled to death," Todd said. "He is saying what we've been saying all along. Equality is good for business."