It took CNBC host Simon Hobbs to say publicly what everyone had been saying privately: “I think Tim Cook is open about the fact he’s gay at the head of Apple,” Hobbs said a few months ago. “Isn’t he?”
James Steward, a guest on the show and himself an openly gay columnist for the New York Times, shook his head. “Um no,” he replied, uncomfortably, a response that will not surprise anyone who follows the gray lady’s cautious coverage of closeted public figures.
Cook has been in the news a lot lately. Not only is Apple one of the most valuable company in the world, but he has solidified his position as Steve Jobs hand-picked successor. In June, he testified before Congress on behalf of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, and he was also the subject of a glowing NY Times profile that made the argument that he is redefining corporate progressive activism.
And today, in addition to announcing the new iPhone 6 and the iPhone 6 Plus, Cook unveiled Apple’s first major new product under his watch. The Apple Watch, in fact, which was immediately greeted with worldwide enthusiasm.
But we’d rather see another kind of statement. Coming out would be the cherry on top of these accomplishments, especially in a time when there are, well, zero openly gay high-profile corporate CEOs. Cook, of course, has every right to his personal life to himself. But few are in a better position that Cook to change this situation for the better and help others break through the corporate glass ceiling.
Here are three reasons why Tim Cook should say the words Yep, I’m Gay.
1. He’s Almost Already Out
— Tim Cook (@tim_cook) June 17, 2014
He authored a Wall Street Journal column about the importance of ENDA.
But he’s also been a tad too cute about his sexual orientation. He referred to seeing discrimination as a child in a speech, adding, “I have seen, and I have experienced, many other types of discrimination … [that] were rooted in a fear of people that were different than the majority.”
What is that “different” supposed to mean? Is it a code for gay people? Or for tall people? Or Jews, or African Americans, or disabled people?
Simon Hall may have blundered into the outing, but we didn’t hear anyone express surprise.
A few days later, Cook marched in San Francisco’s Pride parade.
2. Business Gays Need Powerful Role Models
There are tons of LGBT entrepreneurs, wealthy Americans, and business leaders, but the ranks are exceedingly thin at the top of major corporations. None of the queer leaders of Fortune 500 companies are out.
John Browne, the former chief executive of BP, came out in a book this year saying that he could not have revealed his sexual orientation while head of one of the world’s largest corporations.
“I would have been seen as ‘controversial,’ too hot to handle,” he explained.
Cook could help change that in a big way. By taking a stand as an out gay man — and arguably the world’s most successful CEO — he can show his colleagues that it’s safe for them to come out. And if they chose to do so, they’ll have a powerful ally.
Of course, as young folks climb the corporate ladder, they’ll bring their more progressive ideas with them. The young business kids of today are the gay CEOs of tomorrow. But Cook as a role model would hurry that development dramatically.
3. Job Security
Hell will freeze over before Tim Cook is fired for being gay. Apple loves its homos (remember when the company donated $100,000 to defeat Prop 8?) and has a robust support group for its LGBT workers.
In fact, he’d be more likely to lose his job if he was openly antigay. (Remember Brendan Eich?)
Job security and vast persona wealth is a luxury that a lot of lower-level workers don’t have. Although Apple respects workplace diversity, other companies don’t. A recent survey showed 83 percent of employees hide their orientation at work.
The New York Times profile on Cook starts with a remarkable story: as a kid, he witnessed a KKK cross burning, and tried to intervene.
That’s the kind of bravery we’d love to see this very private man apply to his very public life.