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Apple's Tim Cook In Rare Company As Publicly Gay Chief Executive


Apple CEO Tim Cook is the most powerful gay executive in the world now that he's publicly acknowledging his sexuality. Cook wrote a first-person essay for Bloomberg Businessweek where he addresses something he says many people have already known.

NPR's Elise Hu joins us in the studio to talk about this. Hey, Elise.

ELISE HU, BYLINE: Hey there, David.

GREENE: So what did Tim Cook have to say?

HU: Well, he says he's never denied his sexuality, but he hasn't ever publicly acknowledged it either until now. So he came out by saying he's proud to be gay and that he considers being gay one of the, quote, "greatest gifts God has given him." He explains later in his column that his previous silence was a matter of personal privacy but that he decided speaking publicly about who he is would do more good. He even writes that if hearing the CEO of Apple is gay can help anyone who feels alone or insist on their equality, he feels it's worth a trade-off with his own privacy.

GREENE: OK, well, how rare is it in this day in age for, you know, for there to be an out CEO or executive of a publicly traded company?

HU: It is still quite rare. The New York Times, in fact, just reported that as far it's known, there's only other two publicly gay chief executives of publicly traded American companies. And they are Trevor Burgess of C1 Financial and Jason Grenfell-Gardner of IGI Laboratories.

And of course, David, we should say that it's not just that Tim Cook is any CEO. He's a huge titan of industry, and Apple isn't a 1980s computer company anymore. It's a powerful player across many industries. We're talking publishing, music, movies, Internet services, advertising, mobile. So his admission makes him the most powerful gay executive in corporate America by a mile. And now outside the CEO level, there are other big name gay execs. I've been spending some with the new U.S. Chief Technology Officer Megan Smith, for instance. She is from Google X. That's the division of Google that does self-driving cars. She is a lesbian and has been a gay activist for years.

GREENE: So, I mean, Cook acknowledged that a lot of people already knew this, for one thing, but - and, you know, even though a lot of us might think this is not a big deal, it sounds like it is a big deal for the world of business.

HU: That's right. It does buck a trend. And this topic has actually been considered sensitive to acknowledge for journalists and others who have known about Cook's sexuality. Just this June CNBC was hosting a segment on gay CEOs. And the host actually seemed to out Tim Cook by saying, quote, - something like Tim Cook's fairly open about being gay, right? And it caused this awkward silence in the audience, and he followed up with something like oh, dear. Was that an error? And we had a similar situation here on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED, our afternoon program, where we read letters from listeners who said Tim Cook was gay. And this was before he publicly came out about it.

GREENE: You know, there does seem to be a changing landscape in terms of public opinion. You know, more Americans seem to be supporting things like same-sex marriage. I wonder if there comes a time when, you know, it stops becoming news for a public figure to be out, to be known as gay or lesbian.

HU: That's a great cultural question, and we've been talking about that in the newsroom this morning. And it seems like while same-sex marriage, as you mentioned, is increasingly accepted - and in the workplace, it's no big deal if our co-workers are gay - there are still this - very few openly gay people at the tops of some influential segments of American society - sports, for instance, which we've talked about, and business. So Cook's coming out is significant for that reason, too. He wrote in his column that coming out was difficult for him still, but maybe this acknowledgment can help others.

GREENE: All right. Elise Hu is NPR's tech and culture reporter. Elise, thanks a lot.

HU: You bet. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Elise Hu
Elise Hu is a host-at-large based at NPR West in Culver City, Calif. Previously, she explored the future with her video series, Future You with Elise Hu, and served as the founding bureau chief and International Correspondent for NPR's Seoul office. She was based in Seoul for nearly four years, responsible for the network's coverage of both Koreas and Japan, and filed from a dozen countries across Asia.