When he came out as a teen, Rufus Wainwright found support from an unlikely source: his Southern grandmother, who he says was “pretty much a bigot.”
“She was not who you would think would be the most supportive person, but she ended up being there for me,” said Wainwright, who will perform Saturday in Olympia. “She was the only one who came forth and told me she loved me and that everything was going to be OK.”
The self-described “gay troubadour” will entertain at A Slice of the Good Life Gayla, the annual fundraiser for Pizza Klatch, a nonprofit that supports lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and questioning teens.
The singer-songwriter-composer came out at 13 or 14 and got through his teen years by immersing himself in the arts. “My escape was really to read great novels and listen to great operas and look at great paintings,” he said in a phone interview last week.
“If I’d had more support, it would have been great,” Wainwright said. “I’m here to advocate for folks helping young people and also challenging them.”
Pizza Klatch organizes lunchtime support groups in 11 area schools, inviting LGBTQ+ students and allies to gather for pizza and conversation. The broader aim is to combat bullying and suicide.
With the Gayla, the organization hopes to raise its profile as well as raising funds. Each year, the event has featured a well-known gay headliner who’s agreed to perform for a reduced rate. In 2015, it was Vicci Martinez, the Tacoma singer who made a splash on “The Voice.” In 2016, it was Chely Wright, the first country singer to come out as lesbian.
This year, it’s Wainwright, who last performed in Olympia in 2013.
“We certainly feel very lucky,” said Marissa Rathbone, president of the organization’s board of directors.
“I saw him at Benaroya Hall a few years ago,” said Pizza Klatch co-founder Lynn Grotsky. “He was there for two nights, and it was a sold-out show. Benaroya is huge, and his music was so intimate and so connected.
“There’s humor; there’s seriousness; there’s savviness; there’s pain. It just kind of covers everything.”
Grotsky said she wanted to find a headliner who has fans of all ages, and Wainwright fit the bill with a career that spans contemporary pop, covers from the Great American Songbook and classical compositions.
His latest album is 2016’s “Take All My Loves: 9 Shakespeare Sonnets,” on which he collaborated with Helena Bonham Carter, William Shatner and the late Carrie Fisher. He’s currently at work on his second opera, “Hadrian,” which will premiere next year.
Wainwright has won two Juno Awards, Canada’s version of the Grammy Awards, for Best Alternative Album, and was nominated for a 2009 Grammy for Best Traditional Pop Vocal Album for “Rufus Does Judy at Carnegie Hall.”
His 2007 “Going to a Town,” whose lyrics include “I’m so tired of you, America,” has become an anthem in troubled times.
Lily Allen performed it last month at the Women’s March in London. “That song seems to be a perennial at this point,” he said.
The Gayla concert will include a range of material. “I’ll play a whole group of songs from the old to the new and whatever tickles my fancy that particular evening,” he said.
He promises that will include a couple of the “Shakespeare” songs.
And, he said, he’ll talk politics.
“Everyone has to get more political,” he said. “No one on this Earth has seen anything like this in America. Maybe in other countries, but not in America.”
A Slice of the Good Life Gayla with Rufus Wainwright
What: Singer Rufus Wainwright will entertain at the annual fundraiser for Pizza Klatch, a nonprofit that works against bullying in schools and teen suicide by supporting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and questioning youths and their allies.
When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday, with VIP reception at 5:30 p.m. and auction at 6 p.m.
Where: The Washington Center for the Performing Arts, 512 Washington St. SE, Olympia.
Tickets: $25-$85, $130 for tickets including admission to the VIP reception.