By JONAH BARRETT

Growing up LGBTQ+ can be a challenge.

Queer youth face a number of difficulties, like developing straight crushes, teachers using the wrong pronouns, even not being accepted by their families. It’s a tough journey, but it isn’t all gloom and doom. Two major nonprofit organizations are helping LGBTQ+ youth get a leg up on their lives, and it’s making a big difference.

Stonewall Youth began in 1991 as an LGBTQ+ youth support group and became a nonprofit in 1993. Paying homage to the original Stonewall Riots of 1969, the organization provides such services as advocacy, community outreach, education, queer dances and weekly drop-in support groups throughout Thurston County. The organization is still going strong, servicing anywhere from five to 35 youth in a week, for an average of 400 young people a year.

“The most important thing Stonewall Youth works to do,” said Jax Mercogliano, development director for the organization, “is put power into the hands of youth. LGBTQ youth know best what LGBTQ youth need. We organize our space so that it is by and for youth. Within our organizational structure we also make sure that our decisions and processes are youth-led and adult-supported.”

Pizza Klatch is a nonprofit organization that brings LGBTQ+ support groups to schools throughout Thurston County. Queer or allied youth that feel isolated can come in during lunch hour and discuss the struggles and successes they’re experiencing, often through a process of talking about their highs and lows of the week while munching on pizza. It’s a safe space that functions as a sanctuary amidst the chaos that is high school.

Yet Pizza Klatch didn’t start as “Pizza Klatch.” Originally it functioned as an after-school support group for queer and allied youth at North Thurston High in 2007.

The organizers were soon confronted with new challenges, as a few of the students had been outed for attending and were sent to conversion therapy out of state. A decision was made to change meetings to lunchtime to shield youth from the suspicion of homophobic family members.

“We decided we had to use more stealth,” founder Lynn Grotsky said. “We had to come up with an innocuous name. We realized pizza was easy. Most youth loved pizza. And ‘klatch’ is a Yiddish term; it really means to connect, to schmooze.”

Since then, Pizza Klatch has expanded to 15 schools in Thurston County, helping an average of 422 students in 2019 alone. That’s a big jump from 2018’s average of 311, with the organization adding three more schools in a year. It’s come to the point at which Pizza Klatch doesn’t even approach schools; schools approach the organization.

The increased need for this program demands further expansion. Pizza Klatch plans to move its headquarters to a two-story building downtown this summer, with an open house in August to celebrate their new space.

“Every day the youth teach us things that we’ve never heard of,” said Pizza Klatch’s executive director, Rosalinda Noriega. “We’re still learning, and I hope that we always will be learning. But at the core of it, we all just need acceptance and understanding, and I think that ultimately that is what Pizza Klatch is trying to do.”

WHAT

Stonewall Youth

WHEN

18-to-24-year-old night, 4 p.m. first and third Mondays;

Queer-trans people of color night, 4 p.m. second and fourth Mondays;

Support group sessions 3 and 5 p.m. Wednesdays;

4 p.m. Fridays

WHERE

112 State Ave. NE, Olympia

HOW MUCH

Free

LEARN MORE

360-888-4273 (text preferred)

stonewallyouth.org

WHAT

Pizza Klatch

LEARN MORE

pizzaklatch.org