Tim Cook came out as gay in an essay in Businessweek on Thursday. He said that the unequal treatment LGBT employees face all over the country was a critical factor in his decision.
"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," Cook wrote. "Not everyone is so lucky."
Indeed, there is no federal law protecting LGBT workers against discrimination based on their sexual orientation. And while some states and cities have passed their own protections, there are still 29 states where you can actually be fired for being gay, leaving more than half of all total workers vulnerable to employment discrimination.
Most Americans incorrectly think that this problem has already been solved. A 2013 HuffPost/YouGov poll found that 69 percent of Americans think that firing people for being gay is illegal.
A proposed federal law called the Employment Non-Discrimination Act would provide protections for all LGBT Americans working for employers with at least 15 employees. It's been introduced in nearly every Congress since 1994, but has never passed.
Apple's home state of California has some of the most robust anti-discrimination laws in the country, and the company itself is an outspoken advocate for LGBT rights.
"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," Cook wrote in his essay.