(This article also appears on Huffington Post. Click here if you'd like to read it there.)
The CEO of Apple, Tim Cook, "came out" yesterday, just a couple weeks after National Coming Out Day.
Best quote from his announcement: "Let me be clear: I'm proud to be gay, and I consider being gay among the greatest gifts God has given me." He also went on to say that while he has been open with many of his colleagues, he's never "announced" it before. I understand that fully.
But first ... when have you ever heard being gay described as a gift? I love it!
Sure, we've grown accustomed to celebrities coming out, some with great fanfare. But business people? It's a rarity. Big business people? Hardly ever at all. In fact just a short time ago, BP CEO John Browne resigned for fear of being "outed." That was 2007. My how times have changed!
I was personally told, back in the day, that I shouldn't tell people that I'm gay. I was told that I'd lose clients and people would be afraid to work for me. This coming from "friends." Maybe it was true, I'll never know. It may have taken me awhile, but I eventually told people.
I eventually put a picture of my partner in my office. With my kids.
I eventually took my partner to a work function. Even to a client dinner.
No fanfare, no announcement, no declaration. I didn't wave flags to scream it down the halls. Just a slow process, really just telling people one on one for the most part.
For many years I had my own agency, CPPartners. We created the first print advertising for Tylenol specifically targeting the LGBT community timed perfectly for gay pride that year. An industry publication wrote that I was the "openly gay" President of the agency. It was meant well, but just sounded so odd at the time. Sounds even odder now.
Coming up through the ranks, I'm sure I paid for being open. I would walk into meetings and comments were made publicly about "the gay guy walking in the room." I smiled through it, but it worried me about being labeled as someone who wouldn't go far as a result. I felt like it was being said to somehow push me down.
Looking back from where I sit now, I don't care. I did what I had to do to balance my career with raising my kids. I'm happy with every decision I made. My kids are succeeding in college, thank you very much, and I'm thrilled with my work.
Was I proud ... yes, but also scared. I didn't know what the impact would be to my professional or personal life. I still don't really know. But thanks to high profile business people like Tim Cook, I think we can all breathe just a little easier now. Let's hope he sparks a trend of people being more open about who they are, no matter who they are, at work.
Have I ever considered being gay a gift? No, but I do now.
I say Bravo to Tim Cook. While some may say, "What took you so long?" I say anytime you're ready to talk about who you are is the right time. Bravo!
As Tim said, if he could help one teenager then it was worth the effort. That's why I'm also writing this blog post.
Thank you, Tim!
What's your experience? JIM.