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Friday, October 31, 2014

A Fine Apple This Day

As I was about to close my Facebook News Feed, my eye caught an article shared by a friend who lives in Mindanao: Apple CEO Tim Cook has come out of the closet.

Apple CEO Tim Cook
(Courtesy of

I needed to hear it from him directly, so I searched out for the article he wrote for Bloomberg Businessweek entitled Tim Cook Speaks Up. He talks about how inherently private he is as a person but he now realizes that it is imperative that he be public about his sexual orientation. 

It was this particular passage that resonated the most. "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 first heard the phrase "the personal is the political" at a time when Debbie Gibson and Tiffany were battling it out to be The teen pop sensation. At the time, I never made much of it. But as I grew more interested and involved with how politics is played out in our country, that phrase has come back to remind me of its veracity, over and over, and what it signifies to me is that the causes I champion and will continue to fight for have values that are dear to who I am and what I deem important.

When I support laws that will empower and encourage women to report rapes, it is because I firmly believe in equality, and any act that seeks to highlight femaleness as a weakness to be exploited must be arrested. 

I strongly championed for the Reproductive Health Bill to be passed, because I believe that what you do and what happens to your body is your decision, not the government's, nor any religion's to make. 

And when I speak out against politicians who have been in power for decades, fielding their spouses, children, uncles and even assistants to "take their place" because they've reached the amount of terms they can stay in a particular elective position, it's because (1) our Constitution prohibits political dynasties and (2) public office is a trust, not a birthright to be passed down like royalty.

So when Tim Cook announced he has come out, I couldn't help but wonder: what kind of backlash would he be getting for being open about who he is? 

Make no mistake: coming out is a political act. It is a decision that no gay person takes lightly, because of the horrible repercussions that may ensue once it is done.

You can be denied a job, or fired from your current one, just for stating this.

You automatically define yourself as "abnormal" in a statistical sense, although some sectors would gleefully remind us that, in their unscientific view, this abnormality extends to our mental faculties, or worse, that we have been "possessed" by an evil spirit and that an exorcism must be performed posthaste.

There's the (ridiculous) notion that gay men shouldn't work in banks because they'll be stealing nonstop for their papas. (Boyfriends) If that's true, then our banking system should have collapsed a long time ago, because I personally know many bankers who are gay. And in high ranking positions, too.

I have been together with my partner for 18 years (which I wrote about a few months back, and it was published by Rappler) - and from what my straight friends tell me, that is an achievement whether one identifies as straight or gay, in these times - but we are not offered any legal protection nor benefits, hospitals can bar either one of us should we need to be confined in a medical facility, and we can't declare each other as beneficiaries in our insurance policies because, despite sharing bank accounts, mortgage payments and silverware, we are not legally recognized as having "insurable interest".

The rejection by our own family - the people who we were taught would stand by us, no matter what - would probably rank as the highest cost that one incurs as a result of coming out. And in a society as family-centric such as ours (not to mention our predilection to ignore privacy boundaries), this is cause for great stress and strain for the individual, who is facing the rejection and at the same time is being blamed for "tearing this family apart!"

As I looked at the local comments on social media about Cook's announcement, it dawned on me just how far we have to go, to the destination being A Time When Sexual Orientation Doesn't Matter One Bit.

There are comments about why the iPhone 6 bends - "no wonder, the CEO is gay!"

A little hand wringing about "bakit ba ang daming baklaaaaa?!?" (Why are there so many gay men?)

But most of the negative feedback stemmed from a statement that Cook himself wrote: "I'm proud to be gay, and I consider being gay among the greatest gifts that God has given me." It didn't matter that Cook never specified which God he was referring to. Each comment simply assumed that they shared the same faith and that Cook was an evil man.

"God punished Sodom and Gomorrah! Apple is next!"

"How dare you take the Lord's name in vain! You're going to hell!"

"Nakakasuka ka! Ipinagmalaki mo pa kabadingan mo!" (You disgust me! You dared flaunt your homosexuality!)

It didn't matter that Cook must have worked his butt off - bad pun, I know - to get to where he is now, commanding a company that is admired worldwide. (Even Android users have to agree - albeit begrudgingly - that Apple has the loyalty card played to a tee.) Cook even frames his declaration as just a mere facet of who he is, "an engineer, an uncle, a nature lover, a fitness nut, a son of the South, a sports fanatic, and many other things," but that doesn't mean anything to these people who fancy themselves as definitive moral guardians who must bend this world to their world view.

Personally, I'm happy that a successful man who didn't need to come out decided to do so. Every act of coming out represents a chipping of the "quaint" world view, the one that likes to paint gay people as loud, obnoxious, flamboyant, good for laughs and not much else, sex-starved and driven only by lust, child molesters and irresponsible good-for-nothing members of this world. 

We aren't there yet, but one day, sexual orientation won't matter. I doubt I will see it in my lifetime; but then again, I never thought I'd see an African American be President on the USA. Twice. 

Anytime I feel optimistic, what grounds me is that we are one of only 2 countries in the world that still doesn't have divorce and some of us still giggle when we say the word "condom". We are supposed to be a secular democracy but Senate meetings begin with a prayer. So, the road may be longer for this country.

But I'm much more interested in the road that Cook is trying to build. At the end of his piece, he reveals that he has pictures of Dr. King and Robert F. Kennedy in his office. "All it does is allow me to look at those pictures and know 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."

As Aesop's Tortoise showed us, slow but sure wins the race. Brick by brick, towards equality.

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