CNBC outed Apple CEO Tim Cook as a gay man the other day.
The revelation by CNBC’s Simon Hobbs was met with stony silence on the set of CNBC’s show “Squawk on the Street.”
It’s long been suggested that Cook is gay, but he’s never acknowledged it. NYT columnist James Stewart, who was on the panel, and was one of those who grew uncomfortable silent after the outing, noted that there’s only one Fortune 500 CEO who is openly gay: the former CEO of BP, John Browne, who came out after he left BP.
Stewart at the NYT says he contacted “a lot” of gay CEOs, and none of them at any major company wanted their name to be used in his story.
Interestingly, Apple’s Cook marched yesterday in the San Francisco Pride Parade with the ApplePride contingent. But he did not attend Pride as an openly-gay man, simply as Apple’s CEO supporting our cause.
— Justyna Horwat (@jhorwat) June 29, 2014
Cook is facing what we’ll call “the Queen Latifah” problem. It creates a rather interesting conundrum when a famous person who everyone “knows” to be gay refuses to come out. Queen Latifah got some flak for officiating at a mass gay wedding at the Grammys earlier this. Latifah is widely “known” to be gay, but has never come out. And while some argue, even some gay people argue, that it’s no one’s business telling gay people how out they need to be, as I explained in an earlier story about the Queen Latifah controversy:
One big problem with Latifah’s position is that she’s sending a message that there is a problem. She’s signaling that there’s something wrong with being gay.
People can defend Latifah’s choice, claiming that she has a right to privacy. And Latifah can talk all she wants about her desire to protect her “private life.” But straight Americans – and particularly celebrities – don’t invoke the right to privacy when you simply inquire about the well-being of their spouse. And they don’t rail about their “private life” when you ask, “how goes the girlfriend?”
And in fact, celebrities are usually accompanied to events like the Grammys by their significant other in the first place, making clear that their heterosexual orientation isn’t a private matter at all.
The only time celebrities try to hide who they’re dating is when it’s someone else’s spouse, an underage child, an animal, a corpse, or a gay.
People have the right to remain in the closet, perhaps (I’m not opposed to “outing” someone who is actively trying to harm the gay community, such as a member of Congress who votes against gay rights), but as I noted in my story about Latifah, when celebrities who are “known” to be gay, then hide the fact that they’re gay, it sends the message that “gay” is something embarrassing, negative, bad. And that is harm.
I’m pretty sure I’ve never outed Apple CEO Tim Cook on this site, though I’d heard about him years ago. Apple is a pro-gay company, and, to the best of my knowledge Cook has been nothing but pro-gay. But that doesn’t mean that his choice to remain silent isn’t reinforcing the closet. You can remain unconvinced that Cook should be outed, and still believe that his silence is unproductive.