Gay Son of 'RHONJ' Star Jim Marchese Claims Dad Cut Him Off After Coming Out

James Michael Marchese is seeking $50,000 to help pay for his Fairfield University tuition

Real Housewives of New Jersey alumni Amber and Jim Marchese are fighting back after coming under fire from his eldest son, James Michael Marchese, who claims he was cut off financially after he came out as gay.

The 19-year-old (who goes by Michael) first shared his story in a GoFundMe campaign created on June 15, explaining that he was seeking $35,000 to help pay for his freshman year tuition at Fairfield University.

In his post, Michael alleged that his father "found out" he was gay at the beginning of 2018, a revelation that led him to be "removed from his home" after "two weeks of mental abuse." He and his younger brother, Sebastian, 17 — both from Jim's previous marriage — moved in with their mother, Rebecca Grande.

Since then, Jim has cut ties with his son financially until he lives "according to his standards," Michael claimed in his post.

"Essentially, this meant — and still means — that I have to be 'straight' and date women while 'admitting' that I chose to be gay so that I could get something out of it from my mother," Michael said. "With this, my father has refused to help in paying for any schooling because he believes I have to live in his home and follow his preferred life-style to be good enough to receive any financial assistance with school."

Marchese family
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Jim has made headlines in the past for his controversial opinions on homosexuality. But now, Jim insists to PEOPLE that his decision not to pay for Michael's schooling has nothing to do with his sexuality, and instead on where Michael had chosen to go.

"I paid over $40,000 in 2018 for private school and purchased him a Range Rover. I gave his mother over $10,000 to support him and his brother so they had a good home," says Jim, who is currently in court with Grande to determine the split on education fees. "Our divorce settlement states we are to match the other parents' contribution. I already paid my portion. His mother is refusing to pay anything. Michael wants me to pay an additional $275,000 for Fairfield, a s— school for rich kids with average grades. I offered to help if he attended state school. He has not presented me with one financial form on any school."

"His entire story is a fraud," Jim claims. "Michael isn't being honest as I already gave his mother money for his college."

Michael has not responded to PEOPLE's request for comment on Jim's claims.

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Though finances are the issue, Jim did tell PEOPLE his opinions on Michael's sexual orientation.

"My son is mentally ill and refuses therapy," Jim says. "[People] should experience life and make a responsible decision about lifestyle in their twenties or thirties after having some perspective on life."

"I compare it to buying a car. Imagine being forced to keep the type of car you wanted at 16 years old for the rest of your life. My guess it would be a very different car at 35 years old," Jim explains. "Michael, by labeling himself at 18 years old and making it public, has closed so many doors without the benefit of experience."

Grande and Jim got married in 1997 and divorced in 2004. Grande was granted sole custody in 2008, though sole custody was transferred to Jim in 2013 (Grande, in 2009, was indicted on charges of conspiracy and theft for allegedly stealing more than $780,000 from her insurance clients and later took a plea deal).

Both Jim and Amber have not spoken to Michael since his post. Jim says that Michael and Sebastian "blindsided Amber and I and walked out one day after school without even telling us they intended to live with their mother."

Amber — who is also mother to son Corbin, 12, and daughter Isabella, 11, with Jim — has also denied Michael's claims.

"I have worked extremely hard to keep our personal affairs out of the spot life and protect my boys welfare, unfortunately, my hand is forced to speak out," the 41-year-old wrote on Instagram. "I have received death threats, thousands of nasty, vial comments for a story that is not true. NOT ONE WORD."

"Our family has been destroyed and we are in pain, we have been for some time now," she added. "Never assume you know the story. Please keep this in mind before attacking."

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Tuition for Fairfield University is around $65,000, according to Michael's GoFundMe post. He says he's already raised around $30,000 in merit scholarships. He is seeking $35,000 to help make up the difference, and promised the money "would go directly to paying my first year's tuition and all the expenses for board, books, etc."

"I hope to have the ability to take out the loans myself for my sophomore year of college as I am currently working to build up a credit score and will continue to work during the school year so that I can continue to save money to put towards college," Michael wrote, adding he was unable to find a co-signer for his student loans this time around.

James Marchese
James Michael Marchese. Courtesy of James Michael Marchese

In the wake of James' initial GoFundMe post, James has raised nearly $11,000 as of Thursday. Braovolebrities like Andy Cohen and Real Housewives of Orange County alum Lizzie Rovsek have weighed in. Vanderpump Rules star Ariana Madix even donated $500 to the cause.

"I really hope that I can be an advocate for the LGBTQ community just by fighting for people who can't have a voice," Michael said in a video he uploaded on Wednesday. "I battled with depression for most of my life. … I've been found through all of you, through my friends who have stayed by my side when I came out to them, and who've helped me feel normal and feel like it's okay."

"I hope to take what has happened with my father and turn it into something positive," he added. "Earlier this month, I was a part of a student panel that talked about the importance of having an inclusive classroom for LGBT+ students. Through Fairfield, I hope to be able to expand upon my want/ability to help others who feel alone in the world. I want to be able to help other teenagers and students to feel safer being who they are so that they don't have to feel like the whole world is against them."

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