Apple CEO Tim Cook made a rare public appeal for gay rights and for an end to racial and gender discrimination as he made an acceptance speech for a lifetime achievement award from his alma mater, Auburn University.
Cook, who has not publicly come out but is widely believed to be gay, has become increasingly vocal about promoting equal rights in the workplace. Out Magazine, a leading publication dealing with lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) issues, has named Cook the most powerful LGBT person in the world on its ‘power 50’ list for the past three years.
In the speech delivered last week in New York, the 53-year-old Cook encouraged audience members to pressure members of Congress to support passage of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), a measure Cook had earlier supported in a Wall Street Journal editorial.
“These values have also recently guided us to support legislation that demands equality and non-discrimination for all employees, no matter who you love,” Cook said during the speech. “I have long believed in this, and Apple has implemented protections for employees even when the laws did not. Now is the time to write these basic principles of human dignity into the book of law.”
Supporters of the controversial legislation say ENDA would protect LGBT workers by prohibiting companies with 15 or more employees from discriminating in hiring and firing practices on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.
Opponents say the law is unnecessary because federal statutes already prohibit workplace discrimination, and because a majority of private companies already have policies prohibiting it. Critics also say the law as it is currently written is too broad, and it would lead to frivolous lawsuits alleging discrimination from people who may be passed over for a job or promotion, or who are terminated.
According to the Human Rights Campaign, a nonprofit gay rights organization that supports ENDA, 29 states have no law prohibiting workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation, and 33 states have no law barring discrimination based on gender identity.
Cook also discussed ending racial discrimination, reflecting on when he personally witnessed a cross-burning as a child. He said the event changed his life forever.
“For me the cross-burning was a symbol of ignorance, of hatred, and a fear of anyone different than the majority," said Cook. "I could never understand it, and I knew then that America's and Alabama's history would always be scarred by the hatred that it represented."
“Never allow the majority to limit the rights of the minority,” he said. “Never allow people who fear anyone different from themselves to limit others human rights or deny others human dignity.”
He also expressed support for an overhaul of the nation’s immigration system, calling on lawmakers to pass reforms not because “they are economically sound – although they are. Do them because they are right and just.”
Readers can watch the full speech here.