"I'm proud to be gay."
That simple, powerful phrase was penned by Apple CEO Tim Cook in a moving essay posted on Thursday (October 30) on the Bloomberg Businessweek website, in which the CEO of the planet's most highly valued corporation confirmed what his friends and colleagues had known for years, but which he had never publicly discussed.
"For years, I’ve been open with many people about my sexual orientation," wrote Cook, 53, who took over as Apple CEO in August 2011, just months before the company's iconic co-founder, Steve Jobs, died following a long battle with cancer. "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."
Describing a desire to maintain a "basic level of privacy" throughout his professional life, Cook -- one of the highest profile executives to ever come out -- said he never sought to draw attention to himself, especially at a company whose every move is so closely watched and discussed. "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."
Cook said he's never denied his sexuality, but has also never publicly acknowledged it before. "So let me be clear," he wrote. "I’m proud to be gay, and I consider being gay among the greatest gifts God has given me." Cook explained that being gay has given him a deeper understanding of what it means to live as a minority and the challenges minority groups deal with on a daily basis.
"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," he said. "It’s also given me the skin of a rhinoceros, which comes in handy when you’re the CEO of Apple."
The letter came just two days after Cook gave a speech at the Alabama Academy of Honor during which he criticized his home state for failing to advance LGBT rights, according to the Business Insider.
While he doesn't consider himself an activist, Cook said he hopes that if hearing that the CEO of Apple is gay helps someone struggling with who they are, or brings comfort to someone who is alone, then he's willing to trade his privacy up to make that happen. But with his new public identity, Cook did take the opportunity to call attention to the majority of states where employers can fire people based solely on their sexual orientation, or landlords can evict tenants for being gay, or where partners can be barred from visiting each other in the hospital. "Countless people, particularly kids, face fear and abuse every day because of their sexual orientation," he said.
"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."
Noting that he arrives in his office each morning and is greeted by photos of Dr. King and late attorney general and civil rights advocate Robert F. Kennedy, Cook said he isn't presumptuous enough to think that his coming out letter is on par with their actions. "All it does is allow me to look at those pictures and know that I’m doing my part, however small, to help others," he said. "We pave the sunlit path toward justice together, brick by brick. This is my brick."