Cook a boost for gay, les­bian rights

China Daily (Canada) - - COMMENT -

Ap­ple CEO Tim Cook re­cently an­nounced that he is gay, spark­ing dis­cus­sions across the world. Some peo­ple say the an­nounce­ment will bring ben­e­fits to Ap­ple. Still oth­ers say Cook’s an­nounce­ment shows Ap­ple is mak­ing ef­forts to main­tain its di­ver­si­fied cor­po­rate im­age.

Although Cook is the first CEO of a For­tune 500 company to say he is gay, his sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion hasn’t been a closely guarded se­cret. Cook has said many of his col­leagues have known that he is gay for a long time.

In fact, ho­mo­sex­u­al­ity has not been taboo for Ap­ple; its logo is a trib­ute to the fa­ther of com­puter sci­ence, Alan Tur­ing, who hap­pened to be gay and com­mit­ted sui­cide by eat­ing a poi­soned ap­ple.

Many com­pa­nies, es­pe­cially in­Western coun­tries, have come to re­al­ize that sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion has noth­ing do with an em­ployee’s work per­for­mance. In the United King­dom, for ex­am­ple, the law pro­hibits em­ploy­ers from dis­crim­i­nat­ing against em­ploy­ees be­cause of their sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion. Frommy per­sonal ex­pe­ri­ence in Bri­tain, univer­sity teach­ers and other em­ploy­ees treat their gay and les­bian col­leagues nor­mally. And when they talk about re­la­tion­ships, they do not dif­fer­en­ti­ate be­tween het­ero­sex­ual and ho­mo­sex­ual re­la­tion­ships.

But this equal treat­ment for gays and les­bians doesn’t have a long his­tory, although it took a long time to con­sign the prej­u­dices to the dust­bin of his­tory. Ho­mo­pho­bia in theWestern world had a lot to do with re­li­gion. In Bri­tain, ho­mo­sex­u­al­ity used to be re­garded as a “crime” and pun­ished ac­cord­ing to law. In 1895, the au­thor Os­car Wilde was im­pris­oned for “sodomy”.

In 1963, how­ever, a Bri­tish re­port on ho­mo­sex­u­al­ity and pros­ti­tu­tion said in­di­vid­ual im­moral­ity should not be re­garded as a crime pun­ish­able by law. In the more than half a cen­tury since then, cam­paigns for equal rights for gays and les­bians have achieved great suc­cess. In 2004, gay and les­bian cou­ples could reg­is­ter as le­gal part­ners. In 2006, gay and les­bian rights were ex­tended to the filed of business: the Equal­ity Law stip­u­lates that busi­ness­peo­ple should not treat gays and les­bians dif­fer­ently when pro­vid­ing com­modi­ties and ser­vice. And in March 2013, Queen El­iz­a­beth signed a bill le­gal­iz­ing same-sex mar­riage in Eng­land andWales.

Although les­bians and gays in Bri­tain and other Western coun­tries still face ha­rass­ment, and even vi­o­lence, some­times, they are rarely dis­crim­i­nated against in work­places or other spheres of life.

When I worked in China, I sel­dom ob­served gays and les­bians be­ing dis­crim­i­nated against at the work­place. But still there is no law or reg­u­la­tion in China to safe­guard gay and les­bian rights, which pre­vents many of them from mak­ing their sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion pub­lic.

More­over, the con­di­tion of gays and les­bians is not so good in China’s mid­dle- and small-sized ci­ties, not to men­tion ru­ral ar­eas. A few years ago, a les­bian cou­ple in China’s south­ern re­gion re­ceived a lot of crit­i­cism for or­ga­niz­ing a wed­ding cer­e­mony for them­selves. They even had to change their jobs after their sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion be­came pub­lic knowl­edge.

Gays and les­bians have won equal rights in many Western coun­tries after decades of strug­gle. Per­haps they have to con­tinue their strug­gle for some more years in China to get their rights rec­og­nized by law. But given that common peo­ple’s at­ti­tude to­ward gays and les­bians has un­der­gone a great change in big Chi­nese ci­ties, it is likely that this will hap­pen sooner rather than later.

The au­thor is a psy­cho­log­i­cal con­sul­tant and writer.

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