Apple CEO Tim Cook confirmed Thursday that he identifies as gay, and in so doing instantly became the most prominent openly gay business executive.
“While I have never denied my sexuality, I haven’t publicly acknowledged it either, until now,” Cook says in an essay for Bloomberg Businessweek. “So let me be clear: I’m proud to be gay, and I consider being gay among the greatest gifts God has given me.“
Over the past couple of years, the CEO, whose birthday is coming up on Nov. 1, has taken a number of strong positions in favor of LGBT rights, but had chosen not to discuss his sexuality.
“I don’t consider myself an activist, but I realize how much I’ve benefited from the sacrifice of others,” Cook writes in the essay. “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.”
Apple’s board of directors issued a statement, applauding Cook’s courage.
“Tim has our wholehearted support and admiration in making this courageous personal statement,” said Art Levinson, chairman of Apple’s board of directors. “His decision to speak out will help advance the cause of equality and inclusion far beyond the business world. On behalf of the board and our entire company, we are incredibly proud to have Tim leading Apple.”
Last year, Cook gave a poignant speech at an event for his alma mater, Auburn University, in which he talked about experiencing discrimination firsthand as he grew up, though he did not get into specifics.
He also wrote an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal calling on Congress to outlaw job discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.
Cook pledged to continue that work.
In the piece, Cook said that deciding to talk about his sexuality was tough because he is a private person.
“I come from humble roots, and I don’t seek to draw attention to myself,” Cook writes. “Apple is already one of the most closely watched companies in the world, and I like keeping the focus on our products and the incredible things our customers achieve with them.”
Cook said he hopes to maintain some of his privacy.
“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,” he said, adding that in addition to being gay he’s also “an engineer, an uncle, a nature lover, a fitness nut, a son of the South, a sports fanatic and many other things.”
Update: to include a statement of support from Apple’s board of directors.
This article originally appeared on Recode.net.