Pizza Klatch — a nonprofit that began as an under-the-radar support group — is throwing a coming-out party.
Saturday, the organization is hosting its first fundraising “gayla,” including performances by singer-songwriter Vicci Martinez and folk stalwarts The Righteous Mothers.
Pizza Klatch offers lunchtime support groups for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and questioning youth and their allies.
“We stayed in the closet for the first three years,” said Lynn Grotsky, one of the group’s founders and president of the board. “Back then, we felt we needed a name that didn’t make it obvious what it was. If a parent said, ‘What are you doing at lunch?’ a kid could say, ‘I go to Pizza Klatch. We eat pizza, and we support each other, and we talk.’ ”
The first official lunchtime group, aimed at reducing bullying and suicide, met in 2008.
These days, there’s more widespread support for the LGBTQ community. And the organization, which now runs 16 groups in nine Thurston County high schools, has won the enthusiastic support of school administrators. No longer is there concern that parent complaints would end the groups.
Martinez, a Tacoma native and a finalist on “The Voice” in its first season, is enthusiastic about Pizza Klatch, too. (Both she and the Mothers, for which Grotsky is business manager, agreed to work for reduced fees.)
Martinez was out as a teen and said she would have appreciated a program such as Pizza Klatch, which offers youths support from both peers and an adult facilitator.
“It was really nice to have friends who were very accepting and supportive right from the start,” she said. “But I didn’t ever have anybody older that I could go talk to.”
Coming out to her family and at church was difficult, said the singer. She has a place in Los Angeles but recently returned to Washington for shows and to work on a new album with Tacoma musicians Aaron Stevens and Paul Hirschl, both of Goldfinch, and DJ Phinisey.
“When it went down with my family and my religion, I went into a really dark place,” Martinez said. “Music has been my outlet when it comes to trying to heal and deal with those things that come up.
“It would have been really nice to have somebody older I could talk to who would have helped me deal with the reaction from my family and people in the church,” she said. These days, she added, her family supports her completely.
While the original intention was to support LGBTQ youth, Pizza Klatch invited allies to participate and has attracted other youth who felt marginalized, whether because of race, autism or simply social awkwardness. It also has helped LGBTQ youth stay in school longer and has helped to reduce bullying.
“I saw the positive impact Pizza Klatch had on our schools in Olympia,” Bill Lahman, former superintendent of the Olympia School District, told Grotsky recently. “I am a believer and a supporter. Not only does Pizza Klatch make a difference in students’ lives, but it changes the culture of the school.”
Continuing to shift the culture is a long-term goal, said Jessica McKimmie, the group’s executive director. “One of our bigger picture goals is to effect culture change in the high schools, meaning greater acceptance and less use of words that are offensive,” she said.
This school year, though, Pizza Klatch is focusing on putting an infrastructure into place and raising funds to ensure the longevity of new groups to come. McKimmie, who began work in April, is the organization’s first paid employee.
In the future, organizers hope to start support groups in the rest of Thurston County’s high schools, in middle schools and eventually in schools in nearby counties.
The Pizza Klatch board would love to raise $30,000 at the gayla; sponsors are covering the expenses of producing the event.
The group would like to hire a volunteer coordinator. Now expenses include McKimmie’s salary and benefits, rent for office space and, of course, pizza.
“The pizza is really expensive,” Grotsky said. “We have about 250 youth a week attending groups.
“We’re buying about 70 pizzas a week, so it’s about $700 a week just for the pizza.”