Apple CEO Tim Cook has come out as being gay – and it means yet another footnote needs to be added to the Steve Jobs biography. Jobs hired Cook in the 1990s and made him Chief Operating Officer, meaning the two were effectively running the company together for the better part of fourteen years. When Jobs knew he was dying, he hand picked Cook to become his successor as Chief Executive. And in doing so, Jobs was the first to hire an openly gay man for a Fortune 500 CEO position, even though Cook wasn’t out of the closet at the time. Not only did Steve Jobs know Cook was gay, he had to have known that Cook would come out publicly eventually.
Tim Cook’s homosexuality has been the worst kept secret in the tech industry for some time. I’ve known he was gay for so many years that I honestly don’t recall at this point what my original source was. Most of my tech journalism colleagues already knew as well. We never wrote about it because it wasn’t relevant to his job performance, and because we knew he didn’t want it out there. It wasn’t about keeping a secret so much as it was professional courtesy. Steve Jobs knew as well. He didn’t care one way or the other. But he knew it mattered to Tim Cook.
When the state of California was toying with the idea of outlawing gay marriage under Prop 8, Apple took the rare step in the Steve Jobs era of getting involved politically by making a sizable donation to try to defeat the legislation. Part of that was just standing up for the civil rights of Apple’s various gay employees. But it was Cook pushing for it to happen. And so Jobs made it happen.
Jobs and Cook worked together more closely than anyone else at Apple. The two were close friends. There’s no doubt that Jobs was aware Cook was gay. There’s little doubt that at one point or another the two men discussed the possibility of him coming out and how it would impact Apple. When Jobs picked Cook for the CEO position in 2011, he knew Cook well enough personally by that point, that he had to know Cook would eventually come out at some point during his professional life.
And so even as questions bounce around as to how much or little of a role Steve Jobs had in the early development of new Tim Cook era products like the Apple Watch, there’s no doubt about one thing: Jobs left the company he co-founded in the hand of someone whom he knew would eventually become the first openly gay Fortune 500 CEO. And so Jobs, who was never publicly known for social issues of any kind one way or the other, ultimately and knowingly played a landmark role in the evolution of gay employment rights. When his posthumous biography is inevitably updated to include the developments at Apple after his passing, today’s news will make for a surprising footnote, even if today’s news wasn’t a surprise.