Shortly after moving back onto campus in August, Emily Scheck saw that she had several text messages from her mom. A 19-year-old cross-country runner for Canisius College in Buffalo, the sophomore looked down in horror. She was getting disavowed by her mother for being a lesbian.
Her mother had found photos on social media of Scheck with the woman she is dating and was apoplectic. Scheck had not come out to her parents, as she feared they wouldn’t accept her sexual orientation, according to the Griffin, the Canisius student newspaper. As first reported by the LGBT sports website Outsports, Scheck was allegedly faced with an ultimatum from her family: Leave school, give up her partial scholarship and return home to Webster, N.Y., to go through therapy for her sexual orientation, or she would be cut out from their lives for good.
When she indicated to her parents that she was staying at Canisius and had no interest in therapy, her father drove 85 miles to drop off her belongings: clothing, stuffed animals, trophies and even her birth certificate. He reportedly dumped her things in her car and proceeded to remove the license plates from her vehicle. The family had already removed her from their car insurance plan, according to Outsports.
“Well, I am done with you,” Scheck’s mom texted her daughter, the Buffalo News reported. “As of right now, declare yourself independent. You are on your own. Please don’t contact us or your siblings.”
Scheck needed to know: Why was this happening to her?
“Because you disgust me,” her mother allegedly replied.
With only $20 to her name, Scheck was desperate, working two part-time jobs while going to class and cross-country practice every day.
“I never would have guessed in a million years that this was something that was going to happen to me,” she told the News. “My roommates, they started crying. Me too.”
When a roommate launched a GoFundMe campaign this month to raise money for Scheck to eat, live and buy books for the semester, the fundraiser generated tens of thousands of dollars in days. As of early Monday, the campaign, which had an original goal of $5,000, had raised more than $58,000 since Nov. 7.
But the 19-year-old was faced with another ultimatum last week. This time, it was from the NCAA: Give back the online donations or keep the money and lose her eligibility for college athletics. She felt she had no choice but to give up her eligibility.
On Friday, the NCAA, which has long fought against active student-athletes receiving any outside financial contributions, relented, with a rare reversal in its position: Not only could Scheck keep the donations, but she could also maintain her eligibility.
The weeks that followed her family’s actions were rough. Unable to buy books, she had to borrow them from friends to study. Without license plates, her friends had to figure out where she could park without getting towed. And figuring out how she’d eat was a daily struggle.
“I couldn’t even get groceries, initially,” she told the News. “I was just really relying on my roommates and my girlfriend.”
She told her coaches of the situation, Outsports reported, but months went by without a firm plan for how Scheck was going to find housing and money for food to survive. That’s when Grace Hausladen, one of her roommates and teammates, launched a GoFundMe campaign in hopes of getting financial support for her friend. Hausladen knew there was some recent precedent for successful campaigns based on college athletes in difficult life situations. She pointed to the head injury suffered by Tennessee State football player Christion Abercrombie in September, and the NCAA later approving one of the GoFundMe accounts set up for his medical fees, the Griffin reported.
“She was kicked out of her home for being herself,” Hausladen wrote. “No one deserves to have their home and siblings taken away from them for being their true selves. Though she has made a new home in Buffalo through her teammates and her girlfriend, Justyna, we can no longer stand by and do nothing.” She added: “This should not be happening in today’s society. Help her feel accepted. Help her feel like herself.”
Almost instantly, the campaign was a viral hit and initially totaled $25,000, more than enough to get her through the fall semester.
The success of the campaign got the attention of the NCAA and Canisius, which led to the choice of either giving back the money or losing her eligibility. It was a choice also given to Hausladen, the creator of the GoFundMe. By last week, Scheck’s story had been shared across social media, with people both encouraging her to remain positive and pressuring the NCAA and school to rule in her favor. The public support apparently paid off.
“Canisius and the NCAA will continue to work together in support of Emily,” the university said in a statement. “She is a member of the Canisius family and we will to do whatever we can to assist her.”
Even with the ruling that Scheck is allowed to keep the funding, the runner’s relationship with her family remains strained.
“As long as I stay in Buffalo and I don’t come home, they’ve made it clear that I’m still on my own,” she said.
Her father, Timothy, told the News that there is more to the story than his daughter is publicly sharing, and that the family accepts her coming out. He added that the comments of disavowing her were meant to pressure her to come home.
“It’s a private family matter,” he said to the newspaper. “We love our daughter. We accept Emily.”
Scheck said that the lines of communication are now open with her parents, who, she told the student newspaper, are seeing a counselor specializing in the LGBT community.
“I’ve got to give them something if they’re going to therapy and working on themselves,” she told the Griffin. “I hope to someday have a relationship again, whatever that means."
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