Tim Cook's Gay Coming Out is a Big Deal for Equal Rights

Tim Cook is the CEO of one of the most valuable companies and brands in the world, an advocate for human rights and equality, a very private man, and now a man that's openly gay. The big news isn't that Mr. Cook is gay — his sexuality, just like everyone else's — is very personal. The news isn't even something new at all: Tim Cook is a powerful man doing what he can to make the world a better place for everyone.

Apple CEO Tim Cook's coming out can be a catalyst for equal rights changesApple CEO Tim Cook's coming out can be a catalyst for equal rights changes

Mr. Cook wrote an op-ed piece for Bloomberg about who he is. "While I have never denied my sexuality, I haven't publicly acknowledged it either, until now," he said. "So let me be clear: I'm proud to be gay, and I consider being gay among the greatest gifts God has given me."

He added that because of who he is, he has a deeper understanding of what life is like for minorities, and what challenges they face.

"It's made me more empathetic, which has led to a richer life," Mr. Cook said. "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."

Even in the United States laws still exist that discriminate based on sexuality. Some states give employers the right to fire workers for being homosexual, landlords can evict tenants because they're gay, gay and lesbian marriages are prohibited, and it's no secret that "lifelong partners" (which sounds far colder than spouses) are routinely barred from hospital room visits.

Mr. Cook's high profile afforded him the ability to "come out" in a big way and hopefully make a big impact while doing so. Children grow up confused, afraid, and harassed because they don't fit what's seen as the sexual norm. They don't blend in with the fairytale world where a man and a woman meet, get married and then have sex, have babies, and never have other sexual partners — and certainly not partners of the same sex. Mr. Cook just became an example they can follow, and proof the make believe world isn't the only way to live.

Humans are complex animals with such vivid variety; that's what makes us so special. But instead of embracing our differences we choose to fight to make everyone conform, to be alike. Some of us overcome that resistance to what's different and even embrace it. For others, it's a battle cry to crush those differences they see as a threat to their own views and beliefs.

Apple has been an example of acceptance in diversity both under and before Mr. Cook's leadership. Since he became CEO, however, Apple has been more proactive in publicly supporting equal rights, especially for the LGBT crowd.

As a company, Apple has urged the U.S. Supreme Court to support gay marriage, and has pushed Arizona's governor to veto a gay marriage discrimination bill. The company also had a big presence at San Francisco's Gay Pride parade where Mr. Cook walked with the crowd and shook hands.

Mr. Cook has made his own stand against sexual discrimination and openly congratulated the U.S. Senate for passing the ENDA equal rights bill. Only days ago, Mr. Cook urged his home state of Alabama to improve its LGBT rights laws when he was inducted into the Alabama Academy of Honor.

Despite his efforts both personally and professionally, Mr. Cook doesn't see himself in the activist role. He said,

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.

Mr. Cook may not be an activist, but he is strong and working to give ethnic, religious, and sexual minorities a better life. I hope that Mr. Cook's efforts, along with the work of so many other brave people, will make this world a better place for everyone regardless of who they love.