It was the worst-kept open secret in Silicon Valley. But in an essay published Thursday morning in Bloomberg Businessweek, Apple CEO Tim Cook publicly acknowledged his sexuality for the first time, declaring, "I'm proud to be gay, and I consider being gay among the greatest gifts God has given me."
This made Cook the first and only openly gay CEO of a company listed in the Fortune 500. Within seconds, news outlets and social media services around the world alerted the public, with coverage that was largely respectful and focused on the positive precedent he set for LGBT people in the corporate world. There was at least one notable exception, from a syndicated radio show that characterized Cook's coming-out as part of the gay "agenda."
The New York Times,Washington Post, and Los Angeles Times all highlighted Cook's reluctance to make a declaration. Many outlets noted his speech just days earlier in Alabama, where he challenged his native state to protect the rights of its lesbian, gay, bisexual. and transgender residents, both in relationships and at work.
In his essay, Cook explained why he was making this public, and why now: "My desire for personal privacy has been holding me back from doing something more important ... 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."
LGBT media swarmed around the story, and the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce issued a statement to Chicago's Windy City Times, saying Cook opened "the door for other LGBT CEOs and senior executives to move forward in knowing there is a safe place for them in the business world."
Non-LGBT outlets highlighted the situation for gay people in the business world as well. The New York Timesdubbed him "the most prominent gay man in the corporate world, joining a very short list of openly gay executives at public companies." Earlier this year the paper reported on study findings that "83 percent of gay, lesbian and bisexual people hide aspects of their identity at work."
CNN was quick to point out that Cook is hardly the only gay man on top, so to speak. An article on MoneyCNN.com listed six highly ranked openly gay men, including Burberry CEO Christopher Bailey and former BP CEO John Browne, who resigned in 2007 after a British newspaper group outed him as a gay man. Browne, now an outspoken advocate for gay rights, told the Financial Times, "By deciding to speak publicly about his sexuality, Tim Cook has become a role model and will speed up changes in the corporate world," he said. And when CNN asked Gawker to confirm that its founder and publisher Nick Denton is gay, Gawker editor in chief Max Read replied, "If Nick's not gay, his husband will be very surprised to find out."
Retired congressman Barney Frank, himself gay, told CNBC he was grateful Cook came out publicly, and said his track record of success will negate any concerns that a company's finances could be hurt by a CEO's sexual orientation. "It's a wholly irrelevant factor economically," the Massachusetts Democrat told the business channel (the clip is below). CNBC is also the network where one of the cohosts of Squawk Boxinadvertently outed Cook back in June.
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CNBC host Suze Orman, who came out seven years ago in a different situation -- because a reporter asked her if she was gay -- said Cook's coming-out shouldn't be an event, but it is, and will be good for him and others. "What I think is so great about this is ... it opens up a world of possibilities for those who haven't been able to accept the fact that they're gay," she said (watch the clip below). It will also make Cook a better executive, she said, because "he doesn't have to be ever afraid of anybody asking the question and how is he going to answer it. Everything that everybody needs to know about him is out in the open now. She added that she had no negative repercussions from her coming-out."
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NBC's Today show stood apart from the pack of network morning shows. Producers at Studio 1A placed the announcement near the top of their program, with anchor Tamron Hall calling it "major news." Later, on NBC Nightly News, Brian Williams called Cook's coming-out announcement "a powerful message about equality and making history in the process." And only NBC assigned a correspondent, Cynthia McFadden, to the story, and she did a comprehensive report, almost two minutes long; it may not sound like much, but in 2014 that is considered a generous amount of time in broadcast news. Watch the segment below.
ABC's Good Morning America made a mention of Cook's revelation in its brief newscast, and a business editor wrote a story for the ABC News website. CBS News also posted a story online, but otherwise its coverage of the essay was slim to nonexistent.
Fox News appeared to ignore the story on its television networks but provided reporting by the Associated Press and Reuters online, as did its Murdoch-owned partners, including the New York Post.
A notable conservative response on television, blasted as "really gross" by Salon, came from Republican U.S. senator Ted Cruz of Texas, who told CNBC's Squawk Box of Cook, "Those are his personal choices. I'll tell you, I love my iPhone," in keeping with the right-wing belief that sexual orientation is a personal choice. "Listen, Tim Cook makes his personal decisions, and that is his life. My focus is on the constitutional question of who has the authority to make decisions," Cruz continued.
Cruz's reacted paled, however, in comparison to a rant on the syndicated Rick & Bubba Show, carried on numerous radio stations, primarily in the South, and simulcast online and on some TV stations. Cohost Rick Burgess called Cook's coming-out part of the gay "agenda" and asserted that negative information about homosexuality is being suppressed. Cook made the announcement to get activists "off his back," Burgess contended, also taking issue with the CEO saying his sexuality is a gift from God. "Do you realize the blasphemy of that?" Burgess said, adding that God finds homosexuality "disgusting." Video of the segment has been removed from the show's Facebook page and made private on its YouTube channel, but a few folks have preserved copies -- one is available below.
Burgess's view, while undoubtedly a minority one, undermines an assertion made by Derek Hunter, a contributor to the right-wing website The Daily Caller. He wrote in an opinion piece that coming out as gay no longer matters: "Homophobia is alive and well ... in the minds of occupants of newsrooms and Hollywood studios, but not anywhere else to any degree that it registers. Sure, some stray drunk or Cro-Magnon goon every now and then might yell something or get in someone's face, but people inclined to do that will do that to whoever they come across -- gay, straight, or whatever. The story of a gay man rising up through the ranks to run one of the largest, most beloved companies on the planet being met with a collective 'thud' is a testimony to how being gay doesn't matter in 2014 America. If anything, that's what should be celebrated."
Social media, of course, lit up, and not surprisingly, a lot of the posts and comments addressed this issue of relevance in 2014: "What a non-story," one said on Facebook, another asking, "Why is this breaking news? It's an individual journey and choice. Not breaking news. I love and accept everyone based not on their sexuality but if they are kind, compassionate, intelligent, philanthropic. Not on their gender or sexuality. I just had hoped we'd come far enough in society that sexuality is a non-breaking-news event."
Around the world, two Twitter trends quickly emerged: #timCook and #proudtobegay. But within hours, the Twitterverse turned to more mundane subjects like #tomorrowisHalloween.
Cook concluded his essay with a reverential reference to two civil rights pioneers whose pictures hang in his office: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy. "I don't pretend that writing this puts me in their league," he wrote. "We pave the sunlit path toward justice together, brick by brick. This is my brick." That quote was repeated in tweets around the world, most notably by Jason Collins, the first openly gay NBA player, who joined a chorus of praise by Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Clinton, Ellen DeGeneres, Arianna Huffington and even rival CEO Satya Nadella of Microsoft in tweeting that he was "so proud" of Cook. See more Twitter reactions here.