Apple’s CEO helps open the corporate closet

Tim Cook, CEO of Apple, is the first Fortune 500 executive to come out. "I'm proud to be gay and I consider being gay among the greatest gifts God has given me," wrote Cook in an essay for Bloomberg Businessweek about his sexual orientation. Gwen Ifill speaks with Kara Swisher of re/code about the significance of Cook’s public acknowledgement.

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    Celebrities, athletes and politicians have increasingly gone public about their sexual orientation. But the corporate closet has mostly remained closed.

    Today, Apple's CEO, Tim Cook, opened that door a but more, declaring in an essay for Bloomberg Businessweek he is gay.

    "While I have never denied my sexuality, I haven't publicly acknowledged it either until now," he wrote. "So let me be clear. I'm proud to be gay and I consider being gay among the greatest gifts God has given me."

    Cook becomes the most prominent business leader to come out, but what difference will it make?

    Kara Swisher, who has long covered the tech industry and is co-executive editor of the tech news website re/code, joins me now.

    So, Kara, in this day and age, why does what Tim Cook had to say matter?

  • KARA SWISHER, re/code:

    Well, he is the most prominent executive in tech, and he's running the most valuable company in the world.

    And so he has a lot of prominence, and this is a big deal for him to come out and say that. And the fact that no Fortune 500 executive has done this is a milestone.


    So, why now? Tell us about Tim Cook.


    I don't think there was an occasion. He didn't just decide, like, wake up this morning.

    This is something — he's been out among his friends, as he wrote, but he had never acknowledged it in public. And people have been talking about it in Silicon Valley a lot. There was a lot of hubbub a couple of months ago when a CNBC exchange discussed it. Everybody knows he's gay and stuff like that.

    And I think he just wanted — he's been moving slowly towards it. He's been making — he appeared at the Gay Pride Festival here in San Francisco this year. He made a speech just recently about gay and lesbian rights related to Alabama, where here's from.

    So he's been moving towards this very clearly. And I think probably he just woke up and said enough. I will just acknowledge it and say it and it's not a big deal. And me holding back probably makes it more of a big deal.


    So, he — it doesn't necessarily roil the tech community, but what about the broader corporate community?


    Well, they have to get used to it.

    I mean, I don't think — I said earlier on a program, it's not — the iPhone is not gay. The CEO is. It's not the product or anything like that. He just — it's part of his life. And really interesting — that essay to me was very interesting, especially because he made the point that he was a son of the South.

    He was a fitness nut, which he is, and a whole bunch of things, that it's more than just being gay, but this is also part of him. And I think that is what was important to him is to acknowledge it and try to help people who may not be quite as brave as he's been today.


    As we watch this social evolution among marriage laws and in the entertainment world, and you name it, the military even, has it changed the way these kinds of announcements resonate?


    Well, I think this is still going to be a big deal. This is a prominent CEO of the most valuable company on the earth.

    So I think it's going to be one of these moments that's going to be remembered historically. And he's going to save lives. A lot of — one of the issues he talked about is a lot of gay and lesbian youth, they're much more at risk. People that work in certain states are under risk of being fired for being gay.

    If he gives them a little courage or he moves along the conversation, that helps things, no matter what. And people will be talking about it because of who he is. And just like any — an athlete in the NFL comes out or we have a gay senator or someone in Hollywood comes out, people talk about it, and it moves the conversation forward. And that's always a good thing.


    But, as you mentioned, in a lot of states, in 29 states, in fact, people could still be fired for doing what Tim Cook did today.



    Yes, and people can be killed across the world. There's countries where they kill you for just being gay, and talking — not talking about gay rights at all, about existing as a gay person. And I think this is a much more serious issue.

    Now, Apple and a lot of tech companies, especially IBM — people don't realize this — have been at the forefront of these issues for a long, long time. And Tim has been there a long, long time.

    Steve Jobs said, our job is to put a dent in the universe. He was talking about products and things like that. But this puts a dent in something that needs to be dented and done with, I think, over time.


    Doesn't Tim Cook — doesn't Tim Cook have a reputation as kind of the brains behind Steve Jobs?


    Well, Steve Jobs had a big brain. Let's just be clear. There's no brains behind Steve Jobs. And he wasn't the spokesmodel for Apple.

    But Tim has been the operations person. He's been the quiet behind-the-scenes person. A lot of probably his coming out probably took some time. He's a man of a certain age. He's very quiet himself. He doesn't talk a lot about his personal life. He is very — he plays things close to the vest in terms of a lot of things.

    And so this is probably somewhat discomforting for him, because he's so — he's such a quiet guy. I heard he was already — he works out every morning at 5:00 a.m. and he was in the gym at 5:00 a.m. this morning, so he didn't change much of his regular things.

    But he is not someone you would be — talk a lot about this, and so it probably was very hard for him to do so.


    On the other hand, being the CEO of Apple, as you pointed out, such a powerful position, in some way makes it easier. Or does it make it harder to come out?


    Well, it's easier because he's incredibly wealthy. He has got lots of support around him. His company, his board supports him. Everybody is happy here in Silicon Valley that he has done this. So, he has got a lot of support in that way.

    A lot of employees that are working in companies where they come out, the situation is much more dire for them. And so I think that he was trying to give them some courage. And I don't think it's going to go wrong for Apple or for him — for Tim to do this. But, at the same time, he could possibly give courage to people who maybe have a harder time, or maybe companies to reflect on what they're doing to their employees, if they have — don't have policies in place to protect all employees.

    And it's not — again, it's not a gay issue. It's a human rights issue. And I think that's the part that gets sort of — like, that this is good for gays. It's good for everybody. A diverse workplace is a better workplace. And Apple knows this. Lot of companies here in Silicon Valley know this. And any company that is successful knows this.


    Kara Swisher, always a pleasure talking to you. Thank you.


    Thanks a lot.

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