What Tim Cook’s essay means to me

October 31, 2014, 1:12 PM UTC
Photo courtesy: Justin Sullivan—Getty Images

Tim Cook’s essay in Businessweek, in which he acknowledges a sexual orientation that was nobody’s business and not much of a secret, is a thing everybody should read.

If you haven’t yet, do it now.

This is the paragraph that resonated for me:

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. 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. It’s also given me the skin of a rhinoceros, which comes in handy when you’re the CEO of Apple.”

I’m not gay. But I know what Tim Cook is talking about.

I have what you might call a hidden disability — a gimpy right arm and hand, the result of a bad fall when I was a toddler. Most people never notice, but for me it’s huge. It’s a central fact of what it’s like to be me — to occupy this body — that I’m reminded of a dozen times a day every day of my life.

I’m not saying being dealt this particular bad hand is comparable to being poor or black or poor and black, but like Tim Cook’s homosexuality, it’s made me more empathetic. It’s drawn me to the causes of all sorts of underdogs. Which included, for most of my 35-years in journalism, Apple.

It’s somehow perfect that the company, back on top after all that time in the wilderness, now has an openly gay CEO. It’s almost as if Steve Jobs had stage managed it.

I love the story Stratechery‘s Ben Thompson tells in his daily newsletter (subscribe!) about the difficulty he had securing an internship in business school. “Employers would look at my resume — political campaign, English teacher, curriculum writer — and not even invite me to an interview.”

But when a job opened up at Apple University Thompson nailed it in the first interview.

I simply had the good fortune of interviewing directly with someone who was not only the hiring manager, but who also later told me she had mostly made up her mind because my experiences were so much different than a typical business student. At Apple, she said, being different was a feature, not a bug.”

In some ways — maybe most ways — Apple is just another business. But “Think Different” wasn’t just an advertising slogan. Apple is different, and I think Thompson put his finger on what makes it so:

What is critical to appreciate — and this ought to be thought of as true no matter your personal feelings about homosexuality — is that Apple’s long term success is absolutely predicated being the sort of company where it’s OK for the CEO to be gay. It is from different viewpoints and different experiences — and the unexpected connections that can be drawn between them — from which innovation arises.”

A final thought about the ripple effect of all this, borrowed from James Stewart’s essay in Thursday’s New York Times:

“Sixty percent of Apple’s sales are outside the United States,” says Todd Sears, the founder of Out on the Street. “People love Apple products. It’s the biggest company on the globe. There are 78 countries where being gay is illegal, and in a third of those, it’s punishable by death. What are those countries going to do when Tim Cook comes to visit?”

Follow Philip Elmer-DeWitt on Twitter at @philiped. Read his Apple (AAPL) coverage at fortune.com/ped or subscribe via his RSS feed.