“I Don’t Consider Myself an Activist”

Nina Brennan

On October 30, 2014, in an editorial to Bloomberg Businessweek, Apple CEO Tim Cook declared himself “proud to be gay.” Cook, a longtime advocate for LGBTQ equality policy, explained that while he has been open about his sexual orientation to friends and colleagues for years, he refrained from publicly announcing his preference due to his desire to maintain relative privacy – or at least as much privacy as the CEO of one of the largest corporations in the world can obtain. Recently, however, inspired by Martin Luther King Jr.’s call – “What are you doing for others?” – Cook recognized the impact of his declaration could extend to those who are struggling with identity. He wrote:

“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.”
Full text: http://buswk.co/1xeralU

His negation activism harkens to the 1993 Nike Air advertisement, in which Charles Barkley proclaimed: “I am not a role model,” implicitly urging parents to be more involved with their children, and urging children to view athletes with less idolatry.

Despite their claims, an undeniable facet of celebrity is the inherent public sphere, which begs, is Cook – as the first openly gay CEO of a Fortune 500 company – an activist by proxy? Whether his coming out on a national level is implicit activism, explicit activism, or not activism at all, it has sparked an important internet discussion: does it matter?

One Reddit user weighs in:
It shouldn’t be newsworthy, indeed, but considering that so many people including famous figures (CEOs, athletes, politicians), have been forced to hide their sexuality for pretty much all of history, it will continue to have some significance when a major CEO comes out. Hopefully, in some years, the expression “in the closet” may not even exist (/u//Nilas_T).
Full comments: http://bit.ly/10vxhr9

The effort for equality needs to exist publicly, so it can remain a public issue. Tim Cook – self-denied activist or not – has certainly bolstered the visibility of LGBTQ equality into the public sphere.


About Equality Research Center

The mission of the Equality Research Center is to promote, support, and disseminate research focused on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender equality and human rights. The Center is dedicated to the advancement of Equality by connecting academic, evidence based research to community action, public policy, and curricular innovation.
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One Response to “I Don’t Consider Myself an Activist”

  1. Jacq says:

    Hm- An interesting question indeed. If a person in the public sphere comes out, are they ipso facto an activist because of their position? I think a close reading of his quote might be in order here. “I don’t consider myself an activist, BUT…” The *but* alone here is a recognition that although he doesn’t consider himself an activist, he realizes that he’s in the position of having to issue a public statement about the most private of circumstances. Who he loves becomes an issue discussed by literally millions of people, and inasmuch makes it more acceptable to be talked about. He also discusses his role– as a CEO, which is probably the position least accessible-feeling to those who are marginalized and discriminated against. Actors, entertainers, even athletes more recently have been deemed more “likely” or “acceptable” to be gay, but CEOs? That WASP-Y male position?
    Finally he notes that he is willing to trade in privacy for the possibility that he might be helping just one person feel a little more secure. I ask you, risking loss of privacy and public scrutiny for the POSSIBILITY that he may help just one person he’s never met, how can anyone say that’s not activism?


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