On the eve of Apple’s diversity report, it’s time for Tim Cook to come out

tim cook apple ceo

It’s time.

Today, with a hate group spouting unspeakably terrible things just beyond its gates, Apple released a diversity report and a letter from its CEO, Tim Cook.

At Apple, our 98,000 employees share a passion for products that change people’s lives, and from the very earliest days we have known that diversity is critical to our success. We believe deeply that inclusion inspires innovation.

Our definition of diversity goes far beyond the traditional categories of race, gender, and ethnicity. It includes personal qualities that usually go unmeasured, like sexual orientation, veteran status, and disabilities. Who we are, where we come from, and what we’ve experienced influence the way we perceive issues and solve problems. We believe in celebrating that diversity and investing in it.

We are making progress, and we’re committed to being as innovative in advancing diversity as we are in developing our products.

We know we can do more, and we will.

Tim

I don’t know if Tim Cook is queer. Watching history unfold as a kid in Alabama during the 1960s, that term might make the hairs on the back of his neck bristle. Growing up in the South, I had words that did that too. No one should have words that do that.

I do know that a lot of people assume Cook is gay or queer or not-straight, whatever the case may be, and that’s enough for me to deem it relevant here. I’m not trying to impose a label on Cook or equate actions with identity. (In my book, the only valid articulation of identity is the set of the words a person chooses for themselves. In the trans community, for example, the power of choosing those words cannot be overstated.)

Unfortunately, our society is structured in such a way that deviations from what we expect are often enough to slap a label on someone who didn’t invite one. In Cook’s case, it seems that people just think they know; many of them don’t remember why or where they even got the idea to begin with.


It sucks that people in the LGBTQ community bear the burden of disclosure, but we do. I firmly believe that duty to disclose is a factor of both privilege and visibility. And when your life leads you from a front seat to the civil rights movement to the head of the table at the most valuable company in the world, those two measures are through the roof. Yes, everyone has the “right to privacy”—Cook has already exercised that right plenty. And the irony of that defense on the eve of Apple’s aggressive move into profiting from its users’ private medical data isn’t lost on me.

Ultimately, if you have the power to be an extraordinarily potent positive figure in and beyond the LGBTQ community, my expectations adjust to the height of your podium. When I watch a video like Cook’s speech from an Auburn awards ceremony (linked on Valleywag under the absurdly reaching headline “Tim Cook Speaks About His Own Discrimination as a Gay Man”) it should be touching. Instead, stuff like Cook’s speech and his new letter on diversity frustrate me.

Cook—white, cisgender, and extraordinarily wealthy—awkwardly weaves around explicitly mentioning his sexuality. Why is that enough?

When I first came out, I’d do anything to avoid saying it too, talking pretty circles around it every time the topic came up. Then one day, I chose words for myself and said them aloud. Later in college, when someone much closer to the beginning of that journey told me that my bravery in being so open about my sexuality inspired them, I understood why there was such an imperative to be open. If the radius of my own weird, little queer life can intersect with someone else’s in a positive way, imagine the scope of Tim Cook’s position, the height of his platform. And hell, if he isn’t queer, just say that. Coming out as straight can’t be so bad as the demons the rest of us had to wrestle.


A little over 10 years ago, I came out at age 17. Then, the perceived high stakes of being gay were more a factor of high school myopia than an actual fear for my safety or well being. But being out as a member of the LGBTQ community can still get you killed just about anywhere. Whether it’s in Uganda or in Harlem or taking your own life on a quiet college campus in Michigan, the fear varies but the cost is the same. For every young person balancing their dark struggle with the flickering hope that things really might get better, someone powerful is quietly living their life in a different kind of fear. But that kind of fear is the easiest to dissolve through action.

Frankly, I expect more from anyone whose early life, touched by discrimination and darkness, wended its way to a far more powerful place. If the CEO of Apple has something to be afraid of, it sends a message that those of us in far more disempowered positions must be downright screwed. If shareholders are scary, what do we make of someone brave enough to live their truth in central Africa?


In the tech industry, nothing stirs up excitement quite like Apple—the effect really is singular. And Apple is arguably as famous for the stealthy policies that sculpt its sleek brand as the groundbreaking products that it produces. The company keeps a secret better than anyone, and as a result, every Apple reveal feels like unwrapping something remarkably thoughtful that we just didn’t quite see coming. At Apple’s helm, Tim Cook steers both the innovation of the most successful business in the world and the culture of an entire industry that is, by definition, sprinting toward the future. The best technology invites us to a better version of that future, one we don’t fear, one we get excited about. Our industry, and its culture, can lead by example. And when it comes to sexuality, those positive examples can mean the literal difference between life and death.

The challenge is to commit and to act. Human rights and dignity are great philosophical principles. But the hard work of executing on these principles depends on our individual acts, every day.” —Apple CEO Tim Cook

I couldn’t have put it better.

Photo via Valery Marchive (CC BY SA 2.0) | Remix by Jason Reed

Taylor Hatmaker

Taylor Hatmaker

Taylor Hatmaker has reported on the tech industry for nearly a decade, covering privacy and government. Most recently, she was the Debug editor of the Daily Dot. Prior to that, she was a staff writer and deputy editor at ReadWrite, a tech and business reporter for Yahoo News, and the senior editor of Tecca. Her editorial interests include censorship, digital activism, LGBTQ issues, and futurist consumer tech.