CUPERTINO, Calif. — Apple CEO Tim Cook discussed his sexuality in an open forum for the first time Thursday, breaking a major barrier as the most prominent American CEO to publicly identify as gay.

In an essay published online Thursday morning by Bloomberg Businessweek, Cook called for human rights and equality, writing that he valued his privacy but hoped that he could help others by coming forward.

“While I have never denied my sexuality, I haven’t publicly acknowledged it either, until now,” Cook wrote. “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 wrote that many people at Apple are aware of his sexual orientation and do not appear to have treated him any differently because of it. He said he is proud to work for such a tolerant company and will continue to push for equality.

“We’ll continue to fight for our values, and I believe that any CEO of this incredible company, regardless of race, gender, or sexual orientation, would do the same,” he wrote. “And I will personally continue to advocate for equality for all people until my toes point up.”

Cook has advocated for equality before, pushing his home state to do more to support gay rights in a speech this week at his induction to the Alabama Academy of Honor. He also marched alongside more than 4,000 fellow Apple employees in the San Francisco Gay Pride Parade earlier this year.

Cook succeeded Apple founder Steve Jobs as CEO of the Cupertino-based tech giant three years ago, having served as the company’s chief operating officer.

Art Levinson, chairman of Apple’s board of directors, said the company is proud to have Cook as its leader.

“Tim has our wholehearted support and admiration in making this courageous personal statement,” he said in a statement. “His decision to speak out will help advance the cause of equality and inclusion far beyond the business world.”

Philip Schiller, senior vice president of worldwide marketing at Apple, also chimed in to show his support.

“@tim — cook = Courageous,” he posted on Twitter. “Proud to work for you and be your friend.”

The Human Rights Campaign hailed Cook’s move, saying he had made good use of his influence as leader of the world’s most valuable company.

“Tim Cook’s announcement today will save countless lives,” Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin said in a statement. “Tim Cook is proof that LGBT young people can dream as big as their minds will allow them to, whether they want to be doctors, a U.S. senator, or even CEO of the world’s biggest brand.”

Cook said he felt compelled to do his part in the fight for equality.

“We pave the sunlit path toward justice together, brick by brick,” he wrote. “This is my brick.”