Cook’s announcement comes as gay marriage is becoming widespread, but the nation remains divided over gay rights.
Same-sex marriage is legal in thirty-two U.S. states and in polls a majority support same-sex marriage, with a clear generational divide between younger Americans who are more likely to support it and older ones who are less likely.
The fact the chief executive of the most valuable U.S. publicly traded company felt he could disclose his sexual preference in such a public way, and with the backing of the company’s chairman, shows how times have changed.
Former BP (BP.L) Chief Executive Lord Browne, who kept his
sexual orientation secret for decades, was forced to come out after a boyfriend made it public in 2007. He later resigned.
“By deciding to speak publicly about his sexuality, Tim Cook has become a role model, and will speed up changes in the corporate world,” Browne said in an email to Reuters on Thursday.
Even in the United States, it’s a tough decision for a public figure to be open about being gay, civil rights advocates say. More than half of LGBT workers in the country are not open about their orientation, according to the Human Rights Campaign.
“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 its worth the trade-off with my own privacy,” Cook said.
“As the first CEO of a Fortune 500 company to reveal he is gay, Tim helps make the business world a bit less homophobic,” Marianne Duddy-Burke, executive director of gay rights organization DignityUSA told Reuters in an email. “I’m sure this will make it easier for some others in similar positions to consider coming out.”
Apple Chairman Art Levinson said Cook’s announcement was “courageous.”
“On behalf of the board and our entire company, we are incredibly proud to have Tim leading Apple.”