Skip to main content

Apple CEO Tim Cook speaks at the WSJD Live conference in Laguna Beach, Calif., on Monday.LUCY NICHOLSON/Reuters

The chief executive of the world's most valuable company has come out as gay, saying he felt compelled to add his support to others who are still struggling for equality in the workplace.

In a piece published in Bloomberg Businessweek on Thursday, Apple CEO Tim Cook stated publicly for the first time that he is gay.

"While I have never denied my sexuality, I haven't publicly acknowledged it either, until now," wrote Mr. Cook.

"So let me be clear: I'm proud to be gay, and I consider being gay among the greatest gifts God has given me."

In the technology industry, Mr. Cook's sexual orientation has never been a particularly well-hidden secret, nor has it come up in much public discussion of the company he runs. However, by publicly addressing the issue, Mr. Cook helps dispel the belief among some senior executives that coming out as gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender can be ruinous to future career prospects.

Mr. Cook said he had been reluctant to discuss his private life, but eventually decided the potential to inspire others justified the loss of privacy.

"Being gay has given me a deeper understanding of what it means to be in the minority and provided a window into the challenges that people in other minority groups deal with every day," Mr. Cook wrote.

"It's also given me the skin of a rhinoceros, which comes in handy when you're the CEO of Apple."

"This is a significant step," said Christopher Wood, executive director of the LGBT Technology Partnership and Institute, which provides technology education and outreach for LGBT communities. "Tim Cook runs Apple and Apple is one of the most scrutinized, heavily watched companies in the world.

"The ability for other CEOs to look at that and say, 'this is how to come out, it's not a career-ender for me,' it really sets an example."

The technology industry has for years boasted many of the most progressive and LGBT-friendly workplaces in the corporate world.

Microsoft, for example, was among the first companies to develop and maintain Employee Resource Groups for LGBT employees.

Companies such as Google have also taken steps to provide equal health and tax benefits for employees in same-sex marriages, even in jurisdictions where the law lags behind.

Earlier this year, Apple joined a number of major corporations to vocally oppose an Arizona bill that would have allowed business owners in the state to refuse service to customers on religious grounds – a code, critics alleged, for allowing discrimination against the LGBT community.

Apple's opposition carried significant political clout in part because the company was in the middle of expanding a new production facility – and creating hundreds of new jobs – in the state.

Still, equality activists are quick to point out that there's plenty of work to be done, both within the technology industry and without.

Recent diversity reports released by companies such as Google reveal that the technology industry's core employment areas, such as computer science and engineering, are still predominantly male and predominantly white. Additionally, in the majority of U.S. states, the law would allow Mr. Cook's employer to fire him for his sexual orientation.

"It's quite easy to change policy once you get the right people around the table," said Mr. Wood.

"What's harder to change is the culture."

So far, the response to Mr. Cook's declaration has been overwhelmingly positive. Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella and former president Bill Clinton were among many business and political leaders to offer support.

"Thank you Tim for showing what it means to be a real, courageous and authentic leader," wrote Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg.

Report an error

Editorial code of conduct

Tickers mentioned in this story