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Cook a boost for gay, lesbian rights

Updated: 2014-11-14 08:07
By Ke Han (China Daily)

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 in Western 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. From my 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 the Western 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 and Wales.

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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