ROCHESTER, NY — Biff Boswell recalls coming to terms with coming out as a gay man to his conservative Mormon family. It was 2002 and he had been leading a secret double life in Salt Lake City away from his family in Amarillo, Texas when he worked up the courage to make that phone call.
"Mom, Dad. I'm gay," he told them over the phone.
Boswell, like others in the Rochester's LGBTQ community, have been following the viral story and GoFundMe account for Webster native and Canisius College student Emily Scheck whose parents allegedly cut off financial support when they learned she is gay.
Scheck's story was first reported by outsports.com.
Boswell's parents also wouldn't accept his sexuality and his mother urged him to use the full forces of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to guide him. Boswell, now 39 and living in Perinton, recalls attending conversion therapy to appease his mother, being told by a church bishop he had immoral thoughts and embarking on a cycle of fasting and praying.
Over the course of this therapy, he had to meet with the Mormon Church stake president, but as an active-duty military serviceman, he had to report to duty at 4 a.m. so he needed to rest up early. He recalls sitting there for hours after the appointed time, kept waiting by the stake president.
"I felt so disrespected," Boswell said. "Just cut me loose and release me. That was the day I became big gay Biff. I felt good and happy."
Viral GoFundMe campaign for Scheck
The GoFundMe account for Scheck closed Tuesday afternoon with more than $100,000 in donations, well exceeding its $5,000 goal. Scheck's friend Grace Hausladen started the online campaign Nov. 7 outlining the story of Emily Scheck and how her parents wanted her to return home and go to therapy after discovering she is gay. Scheck declined an interview request from a Democrat and Chronicle reporter last week and did not return a second interview request message Sunday.
The GoFundMe account states that Emily graduated from Webster Schroeder in 2017 and played soccer and ran for its high school team. Currently, Emily is 19 years old and a sophomore at Canisius College. She runs for its Division I cross country and track programs and is going for her business degree.
"In August of this year, our friend Emily was kicked out of her home. Her parents found out that she has a girlfriend through her social media, and they gave her the choice; come home and go to therapy or stay at school and be completely cut off. She chose the latter and has been doing her best to stay afloat in college without the financial support of her parents," Hausladen wrote.
To stay in school, Emily works two jobs: one at Wegmans and the other, a work-study job on campus, according to the GoFundMe page.
Outsports.com reports that Canisius College released a statement saying that the NCAA would now allow Scheck to receive assistance from the fundraiser.
On Tuesday afternoon, the college issued a statement on Twitter saying that Scheck has ended the GoFundMe campaign because "what has been given is more than anyone could have expected." Scheck thanked her supporters and said she and Hausladen will continue to run at Canisius.
Scheck's story touched the heart of Webster residents and business owners Brandie Rauber-Wasson and her wife, Christina Rauber-Wasson. The couple owns BC's Chicken Coop.
Brandie Rauber-Wasson grew up in a strict Roman Catholic family and recalls her internal fight with herself in her youth.
"I didn't want to be gay," said Brandie Rauber-Wasson, 44.
When she came out, her mother, Anne MacDonald, and father, Tom Rauber, were more than supportive with her father asking if he could still give his daughter away at her wedding. But she realizes not all families respond that way and is sad for Scheck. She would like Scheck to know that there is a big community in her hometown of Webster who supports her.
A story like Emily Scheck's is still common in the LGBTQ community, said Assemblyman Harry Bronson, D-Rochester, who is openly gay.
"Emily’s story was painful to hear but I know that my emotion is dwarfed by the pain Emily is feeling," Bronson said."Because I am all too familiar with these kinds of events, I have fought hard to ensure that services exist for our young people."
Rochester is rich with resources to help young people and their families navigate their sexual orientation and identity to gain a greater understanding, Bronson said. These include Out Alliance, Trillium Health, Empire Justice which offers legal services, and The Center for Youth which provides housing for LGBTQ youths. Additionally, New York has enacted legislation that helps protect the LGBTQ community, including the Dignity for all Students Act.
Rochester resident Scotty Ginett relates to Emily's story as well, as he grew up in a conservative religious Baptist home in Sodus, Wayne County. Ginett, 30, recalls that on Nov. 24, 2009, he came out in an email to family members.
"I was scared," Ginett recalled. "I was raised to behave a certain way."
His parents, Tom and Amy, were initially lukewarm to the news.
"They shared in no uncertain terms they disagreed with my lifestyle choice," he said.
But time was on his side. Over the years, Ginett has come to reconcile with family members who initially didn't support him. His advice to teens who may be struggling with coming out is to "do it when it's right for you."
Biff Boswell's advice to young people seeking to come out to family who may not be supportive is to do it when you're in a safe space. That means having a steady income and a supportive group of friends to rely on in case the family is less than accepting. He came out in 2002 before the Internet era when having a physical safe space was important. For Boswell, it was the gay nightclub in Salt Lake City that drew other gay people from around the region.
"Make sure you are safe and secure enough to say it, physically and emotionally," Boswell said.
Even those safe spaces sometimes weren't always safe. Brandie Rauber-Wasson recalls leaving a gay bar near Jamestown in Chautauqua County in 1994 when she was jumped by five men, who attacked her for being a lesbian. Times were different then, she said.
"We grew up in an era when we did not show it," she said.
But time also heals divisions. Boswell brought his future husband, Jeffery Diduch, home to meet his religious family in Texas in 2012 during Thanksgiving. Recently, Boswell's parents came to stay with them for a week in the Rochester area.
Things may seem bleak for gay teens whose families do not accept who they are, Ginett said, but there are people and organizations ready to reach out.
"Understand there is a whole world ready and willing to step up and accept you," Ginett said.
TEGNA staff contributed