Apple's Tim Cook is gay -- the fact it needs to be announced shows what’s wrong in tech
The sexuality of people in the public often comes in for scrutiny. Whether we're talking about Michael Stipe coming out at the same time as REM released Monster, Morrissey using Autobiography to give a beautifully tender glimpse into the loves of his life, Ellen DeGeneres revealing her sexual preferences to Oprah Winfrey, or any one of countless other celebrities who chooses to make their sexuality public, where those in the limelight fit onto the sexual spectrum has long been -- and will undoubtedly continue to be -- of endless interest to people.
Writing in Bloomberg Businessweek, Apple CEO Tim Cook, entirely unprompted, has said that he is gay. For many people this will come as no surprise, for most it will be of no consequence, some will take exception to it. But what's interesting is that, in 2014, a man (or woman, for that matter) proclaiming their sexuality, is news. Tim Cook is currently the top trending topic on Twitter.
The whole thing is slightly odd. Tim Cook is CEO of Apple, a technology company loved and hated in just about equal measure, but always regarded with sage admiration. In the realms of the tech world -- which is what we at BetaNews generally concern ourselves with -- what we are interested in is the hardware and software that is pumped out with reassuring frequency, and assessing it in terms of value for money, aesthetics, usefulness and so on. The sexuality of the man at the top matters no more than whether he likes to eat cereal for breakfast or fruit and yogurt.
And yet tech blogs, newspapers, computing websites, social media have lit up at Cook's editorial. I realize there is a slight irony in writing a news article proclaiming that the very thing being referred to may not be newsworthy. But the fact that it is in the news, and so prominently, makes it newsworthy; it's slightly meta in that way.
Cook's sexuality was never a secret as such. As he says, "while I have never denied my sexuality, I haven’t publicly acknowledged it either", and "plenty of colleagues at Apple know I’m gay". It wasn't even an open secret, it was just something that many people assumed, some knew, and most couldn't care about. There has been an incredible reaction to the words "I'm proud to be gay, and I consider being gay among the greatest gifts God has given me". It is an interesting turn of phrase which is sure to set tongues wagging.
Websites have practically fallen over themselves to heap their praise on the announcement. Some, like Neowin, have also questioned whether it should be reported as news, and plenty have labored over carefully chosen words that the writers hope convey how totally cool they are with the notion -- is acknowledging one's sexuality better than "admitting" it? PC Mag seems to suggest that Cook has been mute for a while ("Tim Cook today broke his silence"), and Ars Technica seems to think there has been "debate" about his sexuality. Re/code points out that Cook is "the most prominent openly gay business executive" -- Harvard Business Review says that he is the first CEO of a Fortune 500 company to come out.
Cook says that while he has "tried to maintain a basic level of privacy", he feels that "I've come to realize that my desire for personal privacy has been holding me back from doing something more important". Men and women who work their way to the top of the world of tech often become known for other things. Bill Gates is now more readily associated with philanthropic work than Microsoft -- something Mark Zuckerberg would no doubt like for himself and Facebook. Cook makes it clear that he is not an activist, but says that "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".
Part of the problem -- if it can be described as such -- with anyone coming out as gay, bisexual, lesbian, transgender, transvestite or as falling into some other group covered by the broad LGBT umbrella, is that all too often it reduces people to fitting into a particular box. Many people's view of Cook will now be forever colored by today's announcement. If this sounds like glib, it is certainly not supposed to. The whole event, and the sickly sweet reactions, is a sad state of affairs, and it just goes to show that the world of technology -- like many other businesses and the world in general -- remains dominated by white, heterosexual, middleclass, right wing men, and any deviation from this is frowned upon, or requires a special announcement followed by acceptance.
Cook's public proclamation was a brave move. Even with the support of friends, family and colleagues, it cannot have been an easy decision. But the very fact that there is such a reaction to something so... normal... is sad. Big love to you, Tim, your anti-discrimination article is inspiring. You're right to be proud. A person can only be proud of two things -- who they are and what they do. You’ve done better than most on both fronts. The fact you're gay simply doesn’t enter into it.