LGBTQ+ students are safer in Thurston County than in other places

Considering the situation today in Cortez, Colorado can help us to appreciate the advantages now enjoyed students in Thurston County, thanks to Pizza Klatch.


When you read what's happening in Cortez, Colorado and then brush up on your knowledge of Olympia's Pizza Klatch, you'll see a contrast in culture and politics.

And whatever you think of either what's happening there or what's not happening here, we'd like to hear from you. Just comment below the stories or comment using the "SUBMIT YOUR NEWS" form on any page of this news site.

It all began with pizza (in Cortez, Colorado)

It all began with pizza

In the mid-1960s, my dad served on the school board in Cortez, in rural southern Colorado.  He recalled that at one meeting he said something a little too liberal because a fellow board member invited him to “step outside.”

Fast forward some 55 years and not much has changed in this town of 8,500 in Montezuma County. Cortez still has its Old West traditions of doing things as they’ve always been done for decades, though more than one-quarter of residents are now Hispanic or Native American. It’s a gun rights stronghold, and to say residents are mostly conservative is putting it mildly.

But what surprised me this year was a painful public example of outright intolerance.

I don’t know Lance McDaniel, 64, well, but I’ve learned that he went to high school here, then left to grow a career and a family elsewhere in Arizona and California. When he moved back he felt a need to serve his community, so stepped up in 2018 to fill a vacancy on the school board. He says he soon realized he wasn’t fitting in, but things came to a head a few months ago.

It all began with pizza. McDaniel and others from a local church had been reading about how difficult it was for LBGTQ+ students to fit into middle school. So the group decided to show the kids that there were friendly people around by delivering free pizzas to three Rainbow Clubs established for LBGTQ+ students in the schools.

The group figured the kids needed community support, having read that several national surveys showed that “four out of five gay and lesbian students say they don’t know one supportive adult at school.”

As for the students, their reaction to the outside support for their get-togethers combined gratitude and relief: "It's nice to have a place (to eat pizza) where we can hang out with no judgment,” said one student. "It's nice to be able to talk with people my own age,” said another. McDaniel says it was clear that the kids liked the attention, “always thanking everyone involved” when the pizza showed up.

Somehow, though, as social media began telling the story, “pizza parties” of gender-fluid students were repeatedly mentioned in a negative way. It all came to a head when a virtual school board meeting was interrupted by people complaining loudly about these odd “pizza parties.” Worse, McDaniel and his family became the targets of threats and denunciations on social media. 

Then last July, a petition to oust McDaniel from the school board began to circulate, with a recall election slated for February 16, 2021, if passed.

The petition charged that in several of his posts on social media about social justice, McDaniel had “… proven to be a poor role model for our children.” The petition added, “We need school board members that understand leadership and the power of mentoring, and know not to voice their personal, political, or social opinions that could influence children.”

McDaniel told the local press that he stood by his social media posts. “My personal opinion is that (conservatives) have bullied us long enough, and that we don’t need to be quiet. If I see racism, I’ll point it out; if I see someone being oppressed, I’ll say something about it,” he said to local radio station KSJD.

McDaniel lost the recall by a two-to-one vote in an election that cost the school district $21,000. He could have been voted out for free, as his appointed seat was up in November.

Still, this punitive recall failed to silence McDaniel’s voice. On social media he still sticks up for the underdog and likes to share a quote from Charles Dickens: “Never...be mean in anything; never be false; never be cruel. Avoid those three vices...and (we) can always be hopeful.” And McDaniel and his church friends continue to drop off pizzas for kids at their Rainbow Clubs.

But there’s a new problem: Stories are circulating that the school board wants to close down the Rainbow Clubs. To head that off, some community members presented a petition to the board on May 11, asking for support of the clubs and the students who enjoy getting together.

Let’s let them eat pizza in peace.

Laura Roberts McHenry is a contributor to Writers on the Range, writersontherange.org, an independent nonprofit dedicated to spurring lively conversation about Western issues. She says she wrote this column because “prejudice is hurting children and nothing could be worse than that.”


Commenting on the situation in Cortez, Colorado

Commenting on the situation in Cortez, Colorado

Situations like what’s happening in Cortez, Colorado really break my heart.  See "It all began with pizza."

Young people coming together in search of community and understanding are being met with ignorance and attempts to dismantle a very genuine desire for community. Although Pizza Klatch had a similar beginning, we have been able to sustain a confidential, youth-led space through hard work and dedication by not only our staff and by our incredible community members and volunteers. Here’s a bit of our history:

“In response to a rash of suicides among LGBTQ+ youth in Thurston County, WA in 2007, a group of concerned private therapists, community leaders, and mental health professionals teamed up with the North Thurston School District to create an after-school support group for high school students who identify as LGBTQ+. Many of these youth had no other access to LGBTQ+ information or support, lived at home with unaccepting families, or were not able to come out to their parents or classmates for fear of negative outcomes.

The after-school support group provided a refuge for youth in need, but was discontinued in fall of 2007 after students were discovered by disapproving parents and suffered punishment. The support group quickly moved to lunchtime, and pizza was served at the first "Pizza Klatch" in February of 2008. Now youth had a safe and confidential place to meet during school hours to gain support and community.

Pizza Klatch as an organization is committed to upholding spaces like the one in Cortez so that students can have a supportive and confidential space to meet up with their peers and eat pizza. Getting to a state of acceptance has not been an easy journey.  We all have worked hard to have our schools excited to welcome us and community members eager to support us. For 14 years our program has been instrumental in changing school culture for the better and providing representation for LGBTQ+ youth. The beginning is often difficult and fraught with challenges, but the impact that organizations like Pizza Klatch and individuals like Lance McDaniel have on the LGBTQ+ youths of their communities makes all of the difficulties worth the effort.

Currently, Pizza Klatch is figuring out how to shift back from virtual klatches to in-school klatches with pizza for the new school year. This means we need even more support from our Thurston County community than before. Even during a pandemic, we have plans to grow and expand into new high schools to provide safe places, which will increase our need for dedicated and passionate volunteers. If you work at a school, we also do free training on various topics related to supporting LGBTQ+ youth. Please check out our website and social media for all of those opportunities and additional resources for LGBTQ+ youth.

Students say:

-“PK provides me a safe environment and an open-minded space to learn!”

-“PK is amazing. The people there are very supportive. PK makes me feel safe. When I go there I know things will be just fine no matter what I go through.”

 Jay Banks (they/them), became executive director of Pizza Klatch in June 2020. 



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