High school has taught me more about life than I ever expected it to. During my freshman year, one of my friends who I previously ate lunch with every day would eat somewhere else on Tuesdays. The next period I would walk into my math class and see 10 kids, one being my friend, and two adults vacating our classroom carrying empty pizza boxes. I, of course, was suspicious and curious. It took me until March to ask my friend what I had to do to become a member of this mysterious pizza-consuming club that always made algebra smell like pepperoni.
Fast-forward to my sophomore year. Said friend takes me under her wing and brings me to Pizza Klatch, this time being hosted in a room next to the library. There I meet Cam, a facilitator, who tells us to dig into the steaming cardboard boxes in front of us. I immediately like him. Joining us for our cheesy meal are students I had seen at school, but never really talked to. Our meal proceeds with introductions and check-ins, where we tell our names, pronouns, and highs and lows of the week. Shy voices are accompanied by the sounds of munching. By the time we get through everyone, the bell rings and out we go. Next week arrives, and the same students sit in the same spots at the same time. We all become a little bit bolder and this routine continues for weeks to come.
It is a chilly Tuesday in October when we arrive at Pizza Klatch. Check-ins begin. A girl who was always very happy and loud suddenly was very quiet. When it was her turn to share, she started crying. I won't share her statement, but as with many other LGBTQ+ youth, it involved a parent who just couldn't understand. Everyone got up from their pizza to hug this girl who had become one of our own. She was, after all, family.
It was then I understood that Pizza Klatch is more than just about free pizza. It was about this girl who was sobbing, who couldn't even turn to her own parents, being comforted by peers she hadn't talked to before joining Pizza Klatch. It was the way that we all told her that it was going to be all right, that she was strong, that we were there for her. It was our small ragtag group of kids who had come to eat pizza telling her that she was never alone. That is Pizza Klatch.
I fell in love with this group. I began bringing my friends, and they quickly turned into regulars. Though they had all come for the pizza, they stayed for the company. Our facilitators Luke and Cam asked us what speakers they should bring in, and the next week we had a guest talking to us about healthy relationships. Another week, a lesbian minister came to talk to us about how God loves us exactly as we are. It was amazing. Pizza Klatch gives us so much support and a sense of comfort we all deeply crave as young people. Pizza Klatch told us that being different in any way, shape, or form was never wrong. It really opened my eyes and made me more compassionate for everyone in my daily life.
A few years back, there were multiple suicides of LGBTQ+ youth (or those perceived to be LGBTQ+) in our area, south of Seattle. It became clear to the community that action needed to be taken. Our cofounder Lynn was and still is a licensed therapist and social worker; she created Pizza Klatch and operated it in her spare time. Lynn knew we we needed something to let teens know that they were not alone, that there are people who want them to live and grow. This is how Pizza Klatch was born, and it's why Pizza Klatch is still here. I can't even imagine the person I would be today without it in my life.
Sometimes people think that Pizza Klatch is just a "gay club," but it is so much than that. Pizza Klatch represents an opportunity for all LGBTQ+ youth, and even allies, who feel uncomfortable in their skin to be surrounded by supportive peers who tell them that who they are is exactly who they are supposed to be. Pizza Klatch is discreet; any student from any background with any orientation is welcome, without the pressure of peers having to know. All it takes to be in Pizza Klatch is to come with a hungry stomach and a big heart.
Through Wednesday, Pizza Klatch is competing for a $25,000 grant from the Neighborhood Assist Program. We were selected as a finalist by the State Farm Youth Advisory Board. This grant would secure funding to keep LGBTQ+ lunchtime support groups in 11 different schools in our community. It would also help Pizza Klatch expand; it wants to go nationwide, which is something I would love to see happen. We need all the help we can get from our global LGBTQ+ community, so if you have a moment, please consider casting your vote for Pizza Klatch here. You can also learn more about our journey o ur Facebook page or our w ebsite PizzaKlatch.org. May the pizza be with you!
MEAH LAUREN REY is a 15-year-old social justice advocate and youth social media administrator for Pizza Klatch, a Washington state nonprofit that supports LGBTQ+ youth.