Tim Cook, CEO of Apple, has written a heartfelt and beautiful letter in Bloomberg Businessweek coming out as a gay man. If you haven’t read it yet, please stop what you are doing, and read it immediately. It’s been a bit of an open secret for some time, but seeing him put it in writing is quite empowering and courageous.
I’ve seen some mixed reactions online about Cook’s letter. Some people are proud of him. Some feel he should have simply stayed quiet. A few have reacted with vitriol and hateful commentary. But if you look closely at what Tim Cook said, he clearly wasn’t writing his letter for any of those people. The key is in this statement from him:
I don’t consider myself an activist, but I realize how much I’ve benefited from the sacrifice of others. So 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.
If you’ve never struggled with coming out, then you may not understand just how powerful that statement really is. I have vivid memories of being 16 years old and hearing that Ellen Degeneres had come out; suddenly there was a celebrity out there who was like me, and she wasn’t afraid to admit it! It was huge, and yet I remember being afraid to let people know how much I knew about Ellen Degeneres, or her coming out, out of fear that they would know why I cared so much about it. I listened obsessively to Team Dresch songs, because they were women who dated women, and they weren’t afraid to write songs about it. The hardest part about coming out is realizing that gay people are everywhere, but you don’t always know it…which means you know there are role models and a community for you, but you can’t easily find them, especially if you’re young and shy or scared. Even when I found friends who supported me, I still felt so alone for so long, and latched onto reading about every famous gay person I could find. It gave me hope that other people had traversed the path I was on, that coming to terms with who I was and who I wanted to love would be one part of my life but not my whole life.
Now I’m an adult, married to a wonderful woman, and we have a beautiful son. Being a lesbian is one part of my life, but it’s not my entire life. Somewhere out there is a gay kid who is scared, trying to sort out who they are and where they belong in the world, and Tim Cook’s letter today is doing for that kid what Ellen Degeneres did for me. Tim Cook didn’t write that letter for me. He didn’t write that letter for the person who feels Tim Cook should keep his private life separated. He wrote it for the people who need to see a role model, who needed to see the successful gay man holding his head up proudly, for the person who’s going to see this news, see Tim Cook, and see a little bit of themselves reflected back. It’s an amazing feeling when you find that connection, and while Tim Cook gave up some privacy to do it, he also gave a great gift to the world today.