By Jake Luplow
I shall start with the young girl, an honor student. She succumbs to the grips of depression. Her mind plays scenes of her time at school: episode after episode of hateful words from fellow peers. Her diary reads: I just want to feel like I matter. Like I am somebody, not some freak. The pages, tear stained and engraved with roots of black ink that show more than just the words she writes; they show fragments of her emotions, chiseled away by others. Her parents find her life left behind in a comatose cloud of neglect as she sips her life away, one amber colored bottle at a time. She journeys. She finds. A dead end. A scenario all too likely for teens today.
Every day teens are mistreated and bullied at school by their peers because of their sexual orientation. They trudge the desolate corridors depressed, lonely, and misunderstood. They resort to suicide or substance abuse or they simply just withdraw from life. But why? Because they don’t have support.
The Pizza Klatch is a support group held in six Thurston County high schools. A group helping gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and queer (GLBTQ) youth press on through their high school years. It helps them feel comfortable in an environment where heterosexuality is the preferred norm.
According to Lynn Grotsky, the Pizza Klatch support groups started six years ago because there was, “a ration of homosexual teens committing suicide as a result of school bullying.” The very first group was started in North Thurston Public Schools and was held after school. She explained, “These school support groups are also for ‘straight allies’ who show up to say, ‘hey, this is a safe school and you’re welcome here.’”
Students meet weekly from October to June and talk about their own lives over steaming hot pizza. They discuss situations at school that may frighten them and whether or not they are feeling supported by the student body. It’s up to the attendees to decide what will be discussed each week. On occasion, they request speakers to teach about concerning issues, for example, homosexuality in relevance to religion.
So why is support such a big deal?
Lynn said, “Many of the kids say the support group has saved their lives. That they once were suicidal, but have now chosen to live. That they feel supported, seen, and understood. Because these students are vulnerable to sexual assault, alcoholism, and drug abuse, it’s important that they have a place to decompress with others who genuinely care.”
The Pizza Klatch is supported through donations and grants—an auction held every other year and the recent dog show, to name a couple of the benefits.
This last Saturday, June 9th, premiered the dog show hosted at the Capital City Pride Festival in Sylvester Park. With the cheerful spirit of the city nearly in arms reach, Sylvester Park was the perfect place for such an event. The sun streamed down. People scattered the lawn, ready for something awesome—and that is what they got.
The dog show was incredible! Some dogs were dressed in costumes, while others looked as though they had just left the salon. The contest included prizes for the dog that looked most and least like its owner, the biggest and littlest dog, most femme and butch dog, etc.
Lynn explained, “People came forward to host the dog show in order to raise money for the Pizza Klatch. It was a time for people of all ages to come together, have a good time, and support a good cause.”
Valerie Hammett, a volunteer in the dog show, confirmed, “I understand the Pizza Klatch events may buffer youth from suffering and perhaps prevent suicide; this clearly fits with my volunteer efforts, for example, the Zany Dog Show.”
“My career truth is organized around a complete and vivid belief that we all have purpose and all are equal in blessings.”
Truth is, many teens live in the cracks and crevices of life, small spaces that hold enveloped their true identity. This doesn’t have to be their reality. And because of the Pizza Klatch, it’s not.
The Pizza Klatch does not concern the morality of one’s sexual preference, but instead, they help save human lives. Pizza, support, learning, excelling: that’s what it’s all about.
All photos by Jake Luplow