Everyone Already Knew Tim Cook Was Gay. That Doesn’t Make His Coming Out Any Less Significant

Apple’s chief executive officer is all over the internet today because he came out in an essay on Businessweek.

Some people are calling his essay “brave,” “elegant,” and “historic.” Others are asking: what’s the big deal? We already knew he was gay.

That much is true. As early as 2008 it was suggested that Cook—described as a “lifelong bachelor” and “intensely private” by Fortune—may be gay. By 2011 it was all but publicly confirmed by Cook himself. Gay magazine Out even listed him in its power rankings.

So why is Cook brave for coming out years after anyone paying attention was already nearly certain of his sexuality?

I figure only those in the LGBT community can truly understand, but even as a straight man, I can imagine. Cook, after all, is the CEO of the world’s most valuable company. It’s an incredibly high-profile position to be in. The publicity, the scrutiny. Many people are (rightfully so) scared to come out even without any of the immense pressure Cook faces. It could not have been an easy decision, even if he always felt that it was the right one.

It can be hard to empathize with Cook’s position because straight people never have to face their friends and family and the world and declare: “I’m heterosexual,” and hope the people close to them still accept who they are. (Whoever said words don’t hurt was obviously deaf.)

And for the Canadians questioning the courage and boldness behind Cook’s move, remember that the US lags behind our fine nation in terms of homosexual tolerance. Few in Canada have any serious issue with gays, but America remains littered with homophobes. Protests abound. Same-sex marriage is somehow still an issue and probably will be in many states for several years to come. Coming out over there is simply a bigger risk for a person to take.

And as for those looking at a tech CEO coming out and asking “why is this news?” I wish I could tell you that it isn’t. It certainly shouldn’t be. But it is, for many reasons. It matters because there are people out there who make it matter. Eventually those people will cease to exist, but for now, this is news. Big news. So if you looked at his essay and just shrugged, good for you. You’re not a part of the problem. Others, however, see gays and froth with vitriol. They make this news. They make the struggle for tolerance a thing.

Whether or not Cook’s decision was brave, though, let’s applaud it regardless—for no matter what it took for him to come out, the fact is that it’s one step closer to universal acceptance, to a world where gays don’t need to be brave.

“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,” Cook wrote.

That’s what Cook hopes his essay helped accomplish. So let’s push the debates aside and focus on that.