Apple chief executive Tim Cook published an essay today in which he proudly declared: “I’m gay.”

“Being gay has given me a deeper understanding of what it means to be in the minority and provided a window into the challenges that people in other minority groups deal with every day,” Cook wrote in the essay published by Bloomberg Businessweek. “It’s made me more empathetic, which has led to a richer life. It’s been tough and uncomfortable at times, but it has given me the confidence to be myself, to follow my own path, and to rise above adversity and bigotry.”

With the essay’s release, Cook in a sense becomes officially what other publications have called him in the past: The most powerful gay man in the U.S. — perhaps even in the world. Back in 2011, though he had not spoken publicly about his sexuality, Out magazine gave Cook the number one spot on its list of the most influential gays and lesbians in America.

As CEO of the world’s most valuable company, Cook’s every public utterance is already heavily scrutinized for its implications for Apple’s business. But now that he has publicly spoken about this sexuality, it’s likely that gay rights advocates will formally embrace him as an icon for their movement.

Indeed, Cook says in the essay that it is his belief that making such an announcement could have a positive benefit for others that convinced him the time was right. He noted that while there has been tremendous progress made by gay rights activists, there are still ample examples of cultural and legal discrimination that gays and lesbians continue to experience.

“I don’t consider myself an activist, but I realize how much I’ve benefited from the sacrifice of others,” he wrote. “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.”

As Cook writes in his essay, the revelation comes as no surprise to those closest to him, both in his private life and at Apple. He has lived his life as an openly gay man, even if he had not made a formal, public declaration.

The Apple CEO has also worn his devotion to progressive and human rights causes on his sleeve in a way his predecessor, Steve Jobs, never did. Cook regularly talked and tweeted about his heroes, Martin Luther King and Robert F. Kennedy. And he also publicly praised Apple employees who participated in pro-gay rights events and environmental campaigns.

Still, the subject had at times led to public awkwardness, particularly among journalists, who were hesitant to write or discuss Cook’s sexuality, unsure whether it was a topic for public consumption or not. In one memorable incident, a CNBC host was widely criticized for mentioning that Cook was gay on the air.

Cook said he is hoping that, by making his public declaration, he can end such awkwardness while also reminding people that he, like anyone else, is not defined by a single characteristic.

“Part of social progress is understanding that a person is not defined only by one’s sexuality, race, or gender,” he wrote. “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.”

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