By Veda Nadendla:
“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.” -Tim Cook, Chief Executive Officer, Apple.
As Tim Cook came out to the world in a beautifully honest and straight-forward piece for Bloomberg Businessweek Op-ed, it seems to have caused a domino effect. Within minutes of the announcement, the news went international and people around the world showed solidarity with Mr. Cook. There were some who found solace in the intimate detail of his life, while there were also those who were horrified and ashamed to read a statement so vivid and finally those who went to the extent of denouncing Apple’s products. What does Mr. Cook’s declaration really mean for the world today?
As the world perches on the eve of a sexual revolution, struggling to change oppressive mentalities and prejudices, Tim Cook’s openness about his sexual orientation is a sign that the world is inching towards awareness and acceptance. He said that before this, he was open with many people at work and it didn’t seem to make a difference in the way they treated him. Knowing that these people respect his choices and do not judge him, may have provided a sense of safety with his identity and led this world leader to be open with the rest of the world as well. At the risk of his own privacy being invaded even more now, Tim Cook has given to the world, an opportunity to embrace their identities and the identities of their fellow human beings as completely natural.
Tim Cook is the CEO of one of the highest ranking Fortune 500 Companies in the world and Apple ranks No. 1 on the magazine’s annual ranking of the most admired companies. When someone in such an international position of power and influence announces to the world that he is gay, the world perks its ears, opens its eyes and listens. Whether they reject or accept his identity, it doesn’t matter, because now, they know that being gay is not just a lifestyle choice or a preference and it does not stop one from having a successful career. This means that the minority community of the world, who have been struggling to come to terms with their identities and be accepted by the people around them, are inching a step closer towards being treated with civility. As Cook put’s his personal life on the line, he has paved the way for people of the LGBTQ community around the world to take inspiration from his openness and to be fearless about their identities.
As if it wasn’t enough that people of the LGBTQ community were judged by the people around them or often times shunned; they experience increasing discrimination at the workplace as well. This needs to change. Among the motivational aspects of his coming out, Cook has also inherently encouraged companies around the world to adopt a more inclusive policy toward their employees and give justice to those who have long been oppressed at the workplace for being gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender or queer. It is a wakeup call for leaders around the world, of companies big and small, to look past their prejudice and offer representation, fairness, and receptivity to people of all walks of life.
With a few people already being aware of Cook’s sexual orientation, his whole ‘coming out’ has been questioned for not being true in its essence. But why should coming out be such a big deal after all? Through his dramatic ‘coming out’, Tim Cook has also symbolized that telling the world about being attracted to the same sex is a liberation. A liberation from all the criticism for being gay, from the undue judgement received by LGBTQ people for being born the way they are, from people who don’t understand how natural it is to be gay and from the oppression faced day-in and day-out by people of the LGBTQ community. Telling the world you are gay is liberation from having to pretend to be someone else for the world to accept. Coming out is symbolic with a readiness to face that oppression, with a new found freedom and acceptance of oneself; a declaration of one’s true identity with no fear of the consequences.
But there should be no consequences. Why should someone be punished because of who they are? Why is being lesbian or gay a crime when the society is the real culprit of these people? Why must a person go through all the torment and muster the courage to come out to the world at all? There should be no need to ‘come out’. We are moving swiftly toward a time when more and more people will open up to the world about whom they are and we need to accept that it is normal. Why should we make an event out of something so natural and personal?
I know it sounds like a utopian world, but it is a world which is fast approaching. A utopian world where coming out does not have to be a shocker, when people do not need to declare their sexual orientation to the world in demand of rights and justice; a world where one’s sexual orientation is one’s own business and no one can or should deny them their rights. Tim Cook has edged us toward that world, through his personal story. But not everyone is in such a powerful position, and they should not need to be the CEO of a company to be accepted; what they need is a supportive and understanding community. Can we be that community for our friends in need?