10/30/2014 08:58 EDT | Updated 12/30/2014 05:59 EST

Apple's Tim Cook reveals he's gay and proud of it

Apple chief executive Tim Cook has come out of the closet.

The public declaration, in an essay written for Bloomberg Businessweek magazine, makes public what had been widely known in some corporate circles. And more importantly, it likely makes Cook the highest-profile gay person in corporate America.

"Plenty of colleagues at Apple know I’m gay, and it doesn’t seem to make a difference in the way they treat me," Cook wrote. "Of course, I’ve had the good fortune to work at a company that loves creativity and innovation and knows it can only flourish when you embrace people’s differences. Not everyone is so lucky."

Cook said that while he never denied his sexuality, he never publicly acknowledged it, either. Cook wrote in the column published Thursday that it wasn't an easy choice to publicly disclose that he is gay, but that he felt the acknowledgement could help others.

"I've come to realize that my desire for personal privacy has been holding me back from doing something more important," he wrote.

No legal protections

Three days ago, Cook spoke out publicly against his home state of Alabama to ensure the state take steps to ensure the rights of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.

Alabama is among the states that do not recognize same-sex marriage, and it doesn't offer legal protections on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. Cook is a native of Robertsdale, Ala., and attended Auburn University.

"So let me be clear: I’m proud to be gay, and I consider being gay among the greatest gifts God has given me," Cook said.

Cook succeeded Apple founder Steve Jobs as chief executive officer of Apple Inc. in 2011.