January 28, 2015

Two Gay Men, Two Apples, and 60 Years of Dramatic Progress

June 7, 1954
Alan Turing, the mathematical genius who led the team that broke Germany's Enigma code during World War II -- thereby shortening the war and saving thousands of lives -- is found dead in his home as a result of cyanide poisoning. A half-eaten apple found by his beside is suspected as delivery device for the deadly cyanide. Turing's suicide follows his conviction for "gross indecency" after admitting to a homosexual affair and his sentencing to a year of hormonal treatment that amounted to chemical castration.

October 30, 2014
APPLE CEO TIM COOK SAYS "I'M PROUD TO BE GAY" -- Headline on Bloomberg terminals following Tim Cook's essay for Bloomberg Businessweek.

Yesterday I 
posted about Alan Turing because I had just seen The Imagination Game, the film about Turing and the cracking of Germany's Enigma code. The movie has received "best picture" nominations for both the Academy Awards and the Golden Globes. The film's conclusion -- which described Turing's suicide after his arrest for having admitted to a homosexual relationship -- brought me to tears.

But my spirits lifted when I thought about the dramatic turnaround in the general public's attitude toward homosexuality today compared to 60 years ago when Turing killed himself.

In researching Turing's story -- searching on "gays" and computers" -- I discovered links to last fall's "I'm proud to be gay" announcement by Tim Cook, the current president of Apple, the world's most valuable company and top computer manufacturer. His matter-of-fact, no-big-deal essay for Bloomberg Businessweek was a perfect illustration of today's calm acceptance of homosexuality by the general public.

It would be nice, in light of these events, if the following mythology proved true.

Turing and the Apple Computer Logo
Here's the story line: The Apple logo on the back of your iPhone or Mac is a tribute to Turing, the man who laid the foundation for  the modern computer, pioneered research into artificial intelligence, and unlocked German wartime codes. His death provides the link with Apple.

Almost a decade after war ended, Turing -- unrecognized for his work, convicted of "gross indecency" for admitting to a homosexual relationship, and humiliated by being sentenced to weekly estrogen injections to "cure" his homosexuality -- bit into an apple he had laced with cyanide. He died in obscurity on June 7, 1954, ten years and a day after the Normandy landings... a massive, successful invasion made possible by intelligence uncovered by Turing and his code-breaking team at Bletchley Park.

So when two Stanford entrepreneurs -- Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak --thought about a logo for their brand new computer company, they remembered Turing and his ground-breaking contribution to their field. They chose an apple -- not a complete one, but one with a bite taken out of it.

Isn't that a beautiful story? Would that it were true.

In a 2011 special to CNN, Holden Frith reported that Rob Janoff -- the logo's creator -- was unaware of the Turing connection. Janoff said: "I'm afraid it didn't have a thing to do with it. It's a wonderful urban legend."

Steve Jobs never commented about the logo's origin. He appreciated the value of a beautiful story.

But no one can challenge the fact that the chief executive of the world's most valuable company has announced he is proud to be gay.

Tim Cook said the essay in Bloomberg Businessweek was "not precipitated by any event; it's not a reaction to anything," just something he had "been thinking about for a while."

Contrast Cook's low-key message with the sensational 1997 Time magazine cover that featured a picture of Ellen DeGeneres with the bold headline: "Yep, I'm Gay."

In 1978, I came out of the closet and also began my recovery from alcoholism. I defined myself as a gay recovering alcoholic. Cook makes it clear that being gay is just one element of his many-faceted life. That's where I find myself today.

His essay is well worth reading:

Throughout my professional life, I’ve tried to maintain a basic level of privacy. I come from humble roots, and I don’t seek to draw attention to myself. Apple is already one of the most closely watched companies in the world, and I like keeping the focus on our products and the incredible things our customers achieve with them.

At the same time, I believe deeply in the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, who said: “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?’ ” I often challenge myself with that question, and I’ve come to realize that my desire for personal privacy has been holding me back from doing something more important. That’s what has led me to today.

For years, I’ve been open with many people about my sexual orientation. Plenty of colleagues at Apple know I’m gay, and it doesn’t seem to make a difference in the way they treat me. Of course, I’ve had the good fortune to work at a company that loves creativity and innovation and knows it can only flourish when you embrace people’s differences. Not everyone is so lucky.

While I have never denied my sexuality, I haven’t publicly acknowledged it either, until now. So let me be clear: I’m proud to be gay, and I consider being gay among the greatest gifts God has given me.

The world has changed so much since I was a kid. America is moving toward marriage equality, and the public figures who have bravely come out have helped change perceptions and made our culture more tolerant. Still, there are laws on the books in a majority of states that allow employers to fire people based solely on their sexual orientation. There are many places where landlords can evict tenants for being gay, or where we can be barred from visiting sick partners and sharing in their legacies. Countless people, particularly kids, face fear and abuse every day because of their sexual orientation.

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.

I’ll admit that this wasn’t an easy choice. Privacy remains important to me, and I’d like to hold on to a small amount of it. I’ve made Apple my life’s work, and I will continue to spend virtually all of my waking time focused on being the best CEO I can be. That’s what our employees deserve—and our customers, developers, shareholders, and supplier partners deserve it, too. Part of social progress is understanding that a person is not defined only by one’s sexuality, race, or gender. I’m an engineer, an uncle, a nature lover, a fitness nut, a son of the South, a sports fanatic, and many other things. I hope that people will respect my desire to focus on the things I’m best suited for and the work that brings me joy.

The company I am so fortunate to lead has long advocated for human rights and equality for all. We’ve taken a strong stand in support of a workplace equality bill before Congress, just as we stood for marriage equality in our home state of California. And we spoke up in Arizona when that state’s legislature passed a discriminatory bill targeting the gay community. We’ll continue to fight for our values, and I believe that any CEO of this incredible company, regardless of race, gender, or sexual orientation, would do the same. And I will personally continue to advocate for equality for all people until my toes point up.

When I arrive in my office each morning, I’m greeted by framed photos of Dr. King and Robert F. Kennedy. I don’t pretend that writing this puts me in their league. All it does is allow me to look at those pictures and know that I’m doing my part, however small, to help others. We pave the sunlit path toward justice together, brick by brick.

This is my brick.

1 comment:

John Schappi said...

Interesting observation in an email from a friend:

An odd point: the Apple CEO saying he was "proud" to be gay. I've always sort of wondered about that common assertion. Should we "judge" being gay? Should we be proud to be white? Should we be proud to be men? Proud to be tall? Proud to have brown eyes? I can fully understand feeling "happy" or "contented" or "at peace" with who we are... about the circumstances over which we have no control. But proud? If someone, for instance, would say he was "proud" to be heterosexual, what might that suggest? That he wouldn't be proud to be gay?

I can understand people feeling proud about the choices they make, or about their accomplishments. But white/black, man/woman, gay/straight, etc, etc? It just doesn't feel exactly right.