The Apple That Is No Longer Forbidden: The Significance Of Tim Cook’s Coming Out As Gay

Posted on November 6, 2014 in Society, Specials

By Jayaprakash Mishra:

Tim cook, CEO of Apple Inc., came out to the world as gay on 30th October, 2014. Responding to this news, somebody posted in Facebook in a rather jocular vein – “If Tim Cook were born in India, he would have been lost somewhere between black magic, Hashmi dawa-khana, psychologists, and depression tablets instead of heading one the most innovative companies”.


Here are some more reactions from Indians on social media:

‘Karan Johar is doing fine. Cook bhi khush hi hota’. (Cook would have been happy as well)
The best he would accomplish would have been to be featured on an episode in Satyamev Jayate’
‘Behind every successful man there is another man ~ Tim cook’
‘Ye topic chalega 2-3 din tak’ (This topic will be in gossip for the next couple of days)
“Since he came out as a gay now, I’m wondering will Indian homo-phobics will stop using apple products as now they might be considered against the ‘Indian culture’” .
‘Apple should change their name to banana now.’

Proud to be gay and it is the greatest gift of God: Tim Cook

Tim Cook, in his legendary coming out open letter published in Bloomberg Business week , said - “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”.

As a matter of fact, Tim Cook is not alone. There are many other open homosexual leaders in technology and business too. Chris Hughes, Co-founder of Facebook, Dana Contreras, Senior Engineer at Twitter, Megan Smith, Vice president for New Business Development at Google, Peter Thiel, Co-founder of Paypal, Jon ‘Maddog’ Hall, Executive Director of Linux International, Joseph Evangelisti, the Chief Communication Officer at JPMorgan, Claudia Brind Woody, Vice President and Managing Director of IBM’s Global Intellectual Property licensing, Anthony Watson of Barclays, and Antonio Simos, CEO of HSBC, UK, are some of the finest examples.

How is India responding?

As we can see, there are a series of responses ranging from indifference to excitement found on various social media channels. But very surprisingly, may be a Satyameva Jayate effect, no extremely homophobic remark and expression of disgust can be seen.

Without actually intending to sound very academic, I would like to cite some interesting instances of how homosexuals are treated at workplaces in India, both in Corporate and in the Public sector.

A few weeks back, in a conference on alternative sexuality, I met a research scholar from TISS who has carried out a series of in depth interviews of homosexual employees from corporate (very interestingly, he didn’t come across anybody who is openly homosexual in Public sector).

So, the findings, as he mentions, are interesting.

He says that gay men having feminine characteristics are paid less than their heterosexual counterparts. But interestingly, butch women who have masculine characteristics are paid more than heterosexual women. So, what do we see here? There is some sort of patriarchy functioning where masculine characteristics are paid relatively better.

Being a curious soul, I asked him how tolerant corporate culture is to tattoos and piercing. While speaking about the dress code, he mentioned that Corporates allows them to wear whatever they want to as long as it is ‘decent’. Now, their definition of wearing decent cloth is very hard to understand.

There was a Trans-woman whom he interviewed who said that one of her managers was fine with her cross dressing, but he thought her earrings were too big. Now, the question is – how big or small your ear rings should be to pertain to their norms of decency.

There are a lot of other related issues here. Since homosexual relationship is a criminal offence according to Section 377 of IPC, the problems they face are manifold. They cannot choose their partner as nominee and are denied of certain advantages that the spouses of their heterosexual colleagues enjoy.

The grim picture

Having said that, if we can stretch our imaginative wings a little further and picturise a homosexual man/woman at work place, we can very well perceive the grim and sordid picture of their work environment. The constant taunting, the segregation, the homophobic gaze and the fear of sexual harassment are some of the true pictures of the kind of treatment homosexuals are subjected to at work places in India.

While watching some of the videos of the Project Bolo, which is a database of interviews of some of the high profile LGBT people, I came across an interview of Parmesh Sahani, an alumnus of MIT Boston who works as head of Godrej India Culture Lab. He has been described as somebody who wears his style and sexuality on his sleeves – be it speaking at high powered TED conference, signing away his book ‘Gay Bombay’, board meeting at his corporate meeting, or some gay party in town.

In an article published in Forbes India titled Why gay employees need to come out’, he says there are two main reasons for the Indian corporate world to become more LGBT-friendly. It makes good business sense since LGBT people are customers and don’t like buying products or services from companies that discriminate against them. More importantly, LGBT people are talent to be pursued, and they don’t like working with companies that discriminate.

How are the queer employees treated in Indian Inc.?

Many of them have HR inclusive policy for LGBT community to ensure that they don’t feel left out at the workplace. Further, the issues of bullying and discrimination at workplace, if they are to be believed, are also addressed efficiently.

IBM India has Employee Alliance for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Empowerment (EAGLE), Infosys has Infosys Gays Lesbians and You (IGLU), Google has a voluntary employee resource group called ‘Gayglers’ to address the issues of their LGBT employees.

But the fact is that majority of the Indian MNCs don’t have a well framed LGBT policy and basically follow ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy where by the companies are okay with their gay employees as long as they keep their sexualities under the carpet.

According to a LGBT Resource Guide created by Google, IBM, Goldman Sachs and Community Business last year, the LGBT community makes up only a miniscule population (5 to 10 percent) of India Inc’s workforce. Around 80 percent of them report hearing homophobic comments, jokes or anti-gay rhetoric at their workplace.

By the way, Professional Strongman champion Rob Kearney came out as gay via Facebook a day after Tim Cook came out to the public. Kearney is currently ranked as the second strongest middleweight champion in the world. So guys, we can very well see the great ‘Tim Cook Effect’ on the alternative sexuality community.

The author is a PhD scholar in Cultural Studies in IIT, Hyderabad and is an ally who supports equal civil rights, gender equality, LGBT social movements, thereby challenges homophobia, biphobia and transphobia.