By Jonathan Kaminsky
(Reuters) - Apple Inc Chief Executive Tim Cook, the highest-profile U.S. business leader to publicly acknowledge being gay, has made a "substantial" donation to a gay rights effort in his native Alabama and two other southern U.S. states, activists said on Thursday.
Cook, who came out in a magazine essay in October, days after accepting an Alabama Academy of Honor award in a speech critical of the state's lack of progress on gay rights, is giving an undisclosed sum to the Human Rights Campaign's Project One America, an effort to promote gay rights in the socially conservative states of Alabama, Mississippi and Arkansas.
The project has a three-year budget of $8.5 million and includes television advertisements, direct mail and a range of outreach efforts involving staff in each state, the group said.
"We hope Tim Cook's substantial personal investment inspires others to support this vital and historic project," said Jason Rahlan, spokesman for the Human Rights Campaign.
The gay-rights group chose to target the three states in part because they all lack non-discrimination protections for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender people and have bans in place on gay marriage, it has said.
An Apple spokeswoman confirmed Cook's donation but declined to comment further on it or specify the amount, noting that it was a private contribution.
(Reporting by Jonathan Kaminsky in New Orleans; Additional reporting by Christina Farr in San Francisco; editing by Gunna Dickson)