The candidly gay tech investor–and billionaire–Peter Thiel predicted that the first CEOs to come out as gay may cause their companies problems overseas. In a September interview, Thiel said it wasn’t surprising that not a single Fortune 500 CEO had yet come out as gay, essentially because the whole world wasn’t as ready as perhaps America was for a gay CEO. The global nature of business today means your CEO has to be as respected in Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Ukraine as he or she is in San Francisco and Minneapolis.
Apple CEO Tim Cook became the first big corporate CEO to publicly announce that he’s gay this morning, and Buzzfeed is already reporting that a Russian politician has suggested Cook be banned from Russia. Buzzfeed plays up the hysteria behind St. Petersburg city council member Vitaly Milonov’s comments. Milonov reportedly said: “What could he bring us? The Ebola virus, AIDS, gonorrhea? Ban him for life.” The comments are absurd, and Tim Cook could fly to Russia today and buy Milonov lunch if he wanted. But the larger story will be in the reaction of those less hysterical–those in Russia and elsewhere who don’t equate being gay with susceptibility to Ebola, for instance, but who still may find it problematic for a brand.