Claire Black: Tim Cook puts down gay rights marker

Apple CEO Tim Cook speaks during an Apple special event. Picture: Getty

Apple CEO Tim Cook speaks during an Apple special event. Picture: Getty

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IT WASN’T that much of a surprise when Tim Cook, the chief executive of Apple, confirmed he is gay. He was named No 1 on Out’s list of the most powerful gay people last year. He slipped to No 2 this year, losing a point for not being out in an “I’ve declared it to the world in a heartfelt article published in a business magazine” type way.

Presumably he reclaims top spot again next year. You might say, who cares, do we really need to know? But, here’s the thing: we do. Cook is the first openly gay chief executive of a Fortune 500 company, standing alongside the 1 per cent who are black and 5 per cent who are women.

And he is not the chief executive of just any company. Love it or loathe it, Apple is a branding behemoth. It makes vast sums of money, is worth hundreds of billions of dollars and, even more significantly, it inspires devotion. Yes, you people pitching tents on the pavement the night before the new iPhone is released, I’m talking cult.

So when the man at the top declares he’s proud to be gay, that his gayness is “among the greatest gifts God has given me”, that is some seriously positive brand association.

But it’s not just what Cook said that deserves plaudits, it’s how he said it.

Cook made the point that his gayness makes him a better person, “more empathetic, which has led to a richer life. It’s been tough and uncomfortable at times, but it has given me the confidence to be myself, to follow my own path, and to rise above adversity and bigotry.”

Now, not that I want to make it competitive, but that sure beats coming out because you lied in court to try to prevent publication of stories about your sexuality and then had to resign, as happened for Lord Browne, former chief executive of BP.

It sends a different kind of message – it’s the most gay-positive statement I’ve heard in a long time and I think he is right. Being in a minority might be hard at times but it equips you with a way of looking at the world which is precious if you can allow it. Cook added: “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.” Impressive.

Lots of people welcomed Cook’s openness, including the chief of Goldman Sachs, Lloyd Blankfein, who said it would “resonate powerfully”. It certainly resonated in Russia where Vitaly Milonov, the city legislator of St Petersburg, stated Cook should be banned for life from entering Russia in case he brought with him “Aids, Ebola, or gonorrhea”.

Cook also said being gay had given him “the skin of a rhinoceros”. Just as well, because his decision to come out does have global implications.

There remain nearly 80 countries where being gay is illegal. In a third of those it is punishable by death. There is a long road ahead before gay people everywhere experience equality. Cook said his coming out was his brick in the path towards justice. More like a whole set of paving stones, I suspect.

Poehler attraction

Obviously it doesn’t say good things about my sense of reality that I spend an increasing amount of time fantasising about how I might become friends with Amy Poehler, but there it is.

I don’t think I could love her any more if I tried. Poehler – who has a book coming out titled Yes Please – is a genius and not just because she gave life to Parks And Recreation’s Lesley Knope, a classic comedic creation encased in a polyester pant suit, but because she co-created Smart Girls At The Party, which provides positive, feminist content for tween and young teen girls online. And because she sat on George Clooney’s lap at the Golden Globes when she hosted for the first time with Tina Fey. And also because she says things such as: “I think if you can dance and be free and not embarrassed you can rule the world.”

The thing about Poehler is that she is totally fearless and slightly scary in a “she really might just do/say anything” kind of a way.

She’s also not hung up on being likeable and yet committed to being able to apologise – properly – when she gets it wrong. If you’re going to take life lessons from anyone, I can’t think of anyone better qualified.

App with bunting on

Be still my beating heart. Finally a scientific discovery I can get excited about. A couple of smarty pants at Queen Mary University in London have developed an app that recognises bird song. Warblr is going to be ready for the spring, naturally.

It means instead of holding smartphones aloft to find out which music is playing too loudly in the coffee shop so we can ask for it to be turned down, we will instead have our phones in the air in a bid to discern the call of a cirl from a corn bunting, a bar-tailed godwit from a great crested grebe. Trips to the duck pond will never be the same.

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