Apple chief executive Tim Cook has come out as gay and says he wants to "inspire people to insist on their equality". Writing in Businessweek he said: "Let me be clear: I’m proud to be gay, and I consider being gay among the greatest gifts God has given 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."

Mr Cook has never publicly acknowledged his sexuality, but said he was motivated to speak about it to inspire others.

He said: "I don't consider myself an activist, but I realise how much I've benefited from the sacrifice of others.

"So if hearing that the CEO of Apple is gay can help someone struggling to come to terms with who he or she is, or bring comfort to anyone who feels alone, or inspire people to insist on their equality, then it's worth the trade-off with my own privacy."

He emphasised that Apple has "long advocated for human rights and equality for all", and cited its intervention in Arizona - where it successfully urged the governor to veto a bill which would have let businesses discriminate against homosexuals.

But he said his decision to publicly come out was not an easy choice, adding: "Privacy remains important to me, and I’d like to hold on to a small amount of it."