Tim Cook accepted an honor from GLSEN on behalf of a gay man who spent a lifetime in the closet.
The Apple CEO, 58, who was given the Champion Award by the LGBTQ education nonprofit for his work in the fight against bullying, spoke bluntly about challenges facing young people in 2019 and "the consequences of failing our kids" in his speech at the gala, which was held Friday at the Beverly Wilshire hotel.
These consequences, he said, included "trans and nonbinary young people kicked out of their homes and attacked on our streets. Bullying and harassment in our schools. And a broader society that still sends a message, when the going gets tough, it’s the least among us who get targeted first."
This crisis facing LGBTQ youth brought Cook to GLSEN's Respect Awards, he said. It also factored into his decision to come out as gay nearly five years ago in an essay for Bloomberg. "It was my hope that pulling back that curtain on my own private life would help someone, anyone out there," he revealed.
In his remarks, Cook shared some of the messages he received from young people who were impacted by his coming-out. "One, in particular, wrote, 'I thought to myself, if he can tell the whole world, I at least can tell my mom,'" shared Cook. "I’ll be honest, I’m not sure that’s any easier."
The tech giant also read a letter he received in 2014 from an older, closeted gay man "that stayed in my mind":
Dear Mr. Cook, it read. I am 62 years old, married for 28 years, with three adult children, and a wife who loves me dearly. I cried when reading your Bloomberg essay. I cried because I am gay. Unlike you, I have repressed, suppressed, denied, or whatever one might call it, an important part of my being.
I am grateful for my life, which many would say is wonderful, fulfilling, and all anyone could ask for. It also hurts that I’ve had to live the kind of life I’ve lived. I've cried because there was no one who spoke out and had an impact on me 50 years ago when I first began to struggle. I tried to conform to the then-expected standards. I fought acknowledging who I was because it was not the way things should be.
I've cried because there are people who, unlike me 50 years ago, will see that being gay is not an affliction to fight but a wonderful thing to acknowledge and celebrate. It makes me happy to know that there are others who are struggling who will give up the struggle and not travel the road that I chose.
Cook then dedicated his award to the man who penned this letter to him. He did so "in humble recognition that what we owe our children is the God-given freedom to follow what is in their heart and I trust that the world is a better, more honest, and more beautiful place when we have every opportunity to be ourselves."
The GLSEN Respect Awards honors students, educators, community leaders, and corporations who have made a difference in the lives of LGBTQ young people. In addition to Cook, the nonprofit honored Octavia Spencer with its Inspiration Award, the cast and producers CW's Riverdale with its Gamechanger Award, and Amazon Studios Chief Jennifer Salk with its Visionary Award. It also named Elle Smith Student Advocate of the Year.
Other special guests at the event included Kalen Allen, Jonathan Bennett, Shannon Beveridge, Bruce Bozzi, Raymond Braun, Connor Franta, August Getty, Liv Hewson, Our Lady J, Jeffrey and Marilyn Katzenberg, Juan Ramon Law-Valdez, Chelsea Kane, Judith Light, Mary McCormack, Max Mutchnick and Erik Hyman, Melissa Peterman, Glen Powell, and Cammie Scott.