KOKOMO, Ind. — For most of her life, Beth Brooke lived with a secret.
Growing up in Kokomo, she knew she was different, and while playing college basketball, she began to realize she was gay, but kept that knowledge to herself, fearful of what it might cost her, both personally and professionally.
She came out at age 52, and began using her position as one of the leading women business executives in the country to advocate for others in the LGBTQ+ community — in particular, young people.
As part of her support for LGBTQ+ teens, Brooke recently established the Life in Full Color Scholarship, for LGBTQ+ students at Indiana University Kokomo. The name references the feeling she had when she announced publicly that she was gay — that someone had flipped on a light switch, allowing her to live her life in full color for the first time.
“My passion behind this scholarship is that nobody should have to live their life in black and white. Nobody should spend 52 years of their lives not being fully present,” she said. “I wanted to do something to make a difference.”
As Brooke began studying issues related to the LGBTQ+ community, she learned that teens often end up homeless because their parents don’t accept them, and that an LGBTQ+ teen is four times more likely to commit suicide than a straight teen.
“I’m envisioning the student who comes out in high school and is not embraced, who does not get a standing ovation, but gets thrown out of the house,” Brooke said. “I want to let them know they are valuable because of their differences, not in spite of them.
“These kids have all the potential in the world. That’s why I wanted to do the scholarship at IU Kokomo, to send a message that this campus is open and welcoming.”
Incoming freshman Autumn Kelshaw is excited to be the first recipient — and that there is someone who wants to encourage LGBTQ+ students in particular.
“This community doesn’t always receive all of the support they need from those around them, or even their parents,” she said, adding that she has. “It can be hard on those who don’t when they go to college.”
Brooke is proud of the students for being true to themselves, noting that it took her a long time to realize and accept that she was gay, and even longer to tell anyone else.
While playing basketball at Purdue, among the first class of women to receive athletic scholarships, she first met teammates who were gay, and began to secretly acknowledge that she might be also, but tried to live the life her parents raised her to live.
She began her career and was transferred to Washington, D.C., where she moved into a building where the majority of other tenants were gay men.
“I never felt like I was so at home in my life,” she said. “I knew then this was who I am.”
As her career took off with EY — she was global vice chair of public policy and led the company’s global diversity and inclusiveness efforts — she kept that part of her life to herself and positioned herself as an ally.
Then, she was asked to be part of a video for the Trevor Project, which focuses on helping gay teenagers who are at high risk of suicide, as the senior executive ally who closes the video. As she read the script, Brooke knew it was time to tell her truth.
“Coming out of the closet, I immediately became one of the most senior out female executives in the world,” she said. “I had no idea there were so few out executives, and almost no out female executives. I immediately understood the obligation to use my platform to try to make change.”
The scholarship is one step towards that change.
“It is acknowledgement that every person, regardless of their differences, deserves to live a life in full color, embraced and fully valued because of your differences,” she said. “This is about human rights. Women’s rights are human rights, LGBTQ+ rights are human rights. Everybody is valuable.”