Apple’s Newest Product: Gay iCon?

By Lucas Grindley

Originally published on Advocate.com October 19 2011 3:00 AM ET

 Soon after Apple named Tim Cook, Steve Jobs’s handpicked successor, CEO of one the world’s most popular technology companies, journalists began arguing bitterly over whether it matters if Cook is gay.

The first reports on Cook’s selection ignored the issue, even though Cook had been outed in January as it became clear he could one day replace Apple’s visionary leader, who died in October. Valleywag (now part of Gawker Media) cited anonymous sources who said Cook’s orientation was a topic of discussion at Apple, claiming executives would support Cook if he chose to be open.

But if Apple planned for this moment, then it watched from the sidelines while a furor unfolded online, with tech reporters sniping back and forth via blog posts, videos, and tweets. Cook, meanwhile, declined to speak to The Advocate.

“Tim Cook is now the most powerful gay man in the world. This is newsworthy, no?” wrote Reuters tech blogger Felix Salmon in a post titled “Don’t Ignore Tim Cook’s Sexuality.”

“The press often portrays self-indulgence as ‘duty,’ ” complained BNet blogger Erik Sherman of the media’s love for juicy gossip, also calling Salmon’s post “sad.”

“The sexuality of CEOs is a dull subject,” wrote Tom Foremski on ZDNet. “I have no interest in what they do with their genitalia and I think I’m right in speaking for the majority of people in our Silicon Valley circles.”

The Poynter Institute, a journalism school, ran an informal poll in which 59% said news reports need not address Cook’s sexuality because the topic is “rarely relevant.” And there is something to be said for that view.

“We’ve always maintained that the standard for hiring or promotion should be job performance and not sexual orientation or gender identity,” Fred Sainz, the Human Rights Campaign’s vice president of communications, told The Advocate. “Through this lens, it makes total sense that Cook and the folks at Apple would not want to discuss Tim’s sexual orientation. It should be irrelevant.”

Of course, Salmon responded to all of this in a follow-up blog post. He warned the media against inadvertently promoting a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy for the workplace.

“The very fact that neither Apple nor Tim Cook has ever said anything about this aspect of his identity is a clear indication that people are still worried about it,” the blogger wrote. “The closet is an institution designed to protect LGBT individuals from scorn and hatred; without that scorn and hatred, it would not exist. It exists.”