Apple CEO Tim Cook Continues Public Campaign for LGBT Workplace Rights

Apple CEO Tim Cook continued his public campaign in support of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA). On November 3rd, Mr. Cook wrote an op-ed for The Wall Street Journal asking Congress to pass the bill, and on Friday, Mr. Cook tweeted his thanks to the Senate for doing just that, and asked that the House of Representatives follow suit.

That tweet (his link is to The Journal's coverage of the passage of the bill in the Senate):

ENDA bars the government, labor unions, and employers with more than 15 employees from basing its hiring, firing, and promotions based on someone's sexual orientation or "gender identity," a phrase that covers transgender people (the "T" in LGBT).

Mr. Cook's op-ed argued that ending such discrimination is good for employers, employees, and the nation itself, and he offered Apple as an example.

In the Senate, ten Republicans voted with the Democrat majority to pass the bill, and it will next go to the House. Its future there is decidedly less certain, as the conservative wing of the GOP, which controls the House, is largely against such things.

Mr. Cook's public campaign is the first social-political campaign we've seen from an Apple CEO since the company ascended to international fame under CEO Steve Jobs. Of course, it's the first such campaign from an Apple CEO that we've ever seen, but the reality is that the opinion of the CEO of the world's most valuable company carries more weight than the CEO of the world's 6th or 7th biggest PC maker.

In 2008—under then-CEO Steve Jobs—Apple donated US$100,000 to fight Prop. 8 in California, a law that enshrined a ban on gay marriage in the California Constitution. That law was opposed by most of Silicon Valley, and has since been thrown out in a series of court defeats.

Steve Jobs also volunteered to help out Al Gore's marketing in the 2000 election—an offer that was declined—but by and large there have been few public political stances taken by either Mr. Jobs or Tim Cook that didn't have an immediate effect on Apple's businesses.

There is an Apple connection with Tim Cook's column and tweet in support of ENDA—he has argued that ENDA will be good for business—but Apple itself has chosen to adopt a sweeping policy of zero tolerance for LGBT discrimination. ENDA, therefore, will have little impact on the day-to-day goings on at Apple unless you want to take an oblique meta-level look.

Not surprisingly, social conservatives and libertarians alike have taken offense at Mr. Cook's public stance. Reading through The Journal's comments yielded themes of "But what about the bigots? Who will think of their right to discriminate?" for the former group, while the later argued that Apple's own solution to this issue is proof that the government ought not be involved.

The question is whether or not this will have an impact on Apple's sales. You'll find plenty of people commenters who said they would no longer buy Apple products in the wake of Mr. Cook's op-ed, but judging from the derogatory ways used to describe those products in those same posts, it's doubtful any of them were Apple customers to begin with.

In addition, the reality is that while Apple has a reputation of being "liberal"—most of Silicon Valley is left-of-center on social issues and other progressive causes—the company has many admirers across the political spectrum.

For instance, conservative radio personality Rush Limbaugh is among the loudest fans of Apple's products. iPhones and iPads are also popular on both sides of the aisle in Congress.

My educated guess is that whether or not this bill passes the House (it won't) and gets signed by President Obama (he has said he will sign it if it does pass), few will remember or think about Tim Cook's public stance on the issue when they buy their gadgets. That's how life works.

Besides, if you want to buy your electronics based on the politics of its maker's CEO, you're kind of screwed. Google's Larry Page and Sergey Brin both contributed money to fight Prop. 8; Samsung, heck they're godless foreigners (please note my sarcasm), and the same goes for all of the other handset makers except Apple and Motorola (owned by Google); Microsoft supports gay marriage.

Maybe Nokia? There's no gay marriage in Finland, yet, but that country decriminalized homosexuality in the 1970s. Finland as a whole is far more progressive than the parts of the U.S. where any of this would matter, and we're talking about the country that sided with the Nazis against the Soviet Union (though to be fair, that decision was much more about being against the Soviet Union than being for the Third Reich).

The point is that in technology, tolerance of LGBT issues is the norm, and Tim Cook is in safe territory with his public campaign.