Moral Low Ground

Economy

Apple CEO Tim Cook Donating to HRC’s Southern LGBT Rights Campaign

Apple CEO Tim Cook (Flickr Creative Commons)

Apple CEO Tim Cook (Flickr Creative Commons)

LGBT advocates hailed Thursday’s announcement that Apple CEO Tim Cook will help fund a major gay rights initiative in three southern states, including his native Alabama.

The Associated Press reports Cook will make a contribution to the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), the nation’s largest LGBT equality group, to help fund Project One America, a three-year, $8.5 million civil rights campaign in Alabama, Arkansas and Mississippi.

“Right now, this country is deeply divided into two Americas — one where LGBT equality is nearly a reality and the other where LGBT people lack the most fundamental measures of equal citizenship,” HRC president and Arkansas native Chad Griffin said in a press release.

“Project One America is an unparalleled effort to close that gap, and it opens up a bold new chapter in the LGBT civil rights movement of this generation. In this grand struggle for equality, we can’t write off anyone, anywhere,” Griffin added.

The amount of Cook’s donation has not been disclosed, but HRC called it “substantial.”

Cook, who ‘came out’ earlier this year, is the first openly gay CEO of a Fortune 500 company. He was born and raised in Alabama, where same-sex marriage is illegal and where there are no state laws protecting LGBT people from discrimination or hate crimes.

Gay marriage is also banned in Mississippi, while Arkansas made headlines earlier this year when it became the first ‘Bible Belt’ state to legalize same-sex marriage.

Neither Arkansas nor Mississippi has enacted anti-hate crime or anti-discrimination laws protecting LGBT people, and all three states targeted by HRC’s initiative are among the 29 in which it is still legal for employers to fire workers for being gay.

The conservative Christian values shared by many southerners have kept the region from enjoying much of the progress toward equality enjoyed by LGBT people in other parts of America. In Alabama, where the chief justice of the state Supreme Court openly advocates for Christian theocracy and where a state government meeting was recently opened with an anti-gay marriage prayer, only 32 percent of residents support same-sex marriage, according to a 2013 Williams Institute study.

In Mississippi, the study found 34 percent of respondents approved of gay marriage. In Arkansas, approval stood at 31 percent, tied with Louisiana for the lowest in the nation.

Speaking at his October induction into the Alabama Academy of Honor, which acknowledges native sons and daughters for their outstanding accomplishments and service, Cook took his home state to task for failing to protect LGBT rights.

“As a state we took too long to take steps toward equality and once we began, our progress was too slow,” Cook said at the state capitol ceremony. “Too slow on equality for African Americans. Too slow on interracial marriage, which was only legalized 14 years ago. And still too slow on equality for the LGBT community.”

“Under the law citizens of Alabama can still be fired based on their sexual orientation,” he added. “We can’t change the past, but we can learn from it, and we can create a different future.”

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