Jonathan D. Lovitz on the spirit of Philly Pride: “Racial justice is an LGBT fight, too”

Jonathan D. Lovitz caught our eye in the spring of 2011 when he was excused from jury duty in New York, stating: “Since I can’t get married or adopt a child in the state of New York, I can’t possibly be an impartial judge of a citizen when I am considered a second class citizen in the eyes of the justice system.”

Second class citizen no more, Lovitz, married to NBC News weatherman Steve Sosna, now lives in Philadelphia and serves as VP at the National LGBT Chamber of Commerce (NGLCC). A commentator on MSNBC, CNBC, NPR, Lovitz speaks at colleges and universities encouraging young people to get involved in public service and use the internet intelligently to make a difference for their communities.

We checked in with Lovitz to get a feel for the spirit of Philly Pride in a year when the physical pride was canceled due to the pandemic.

Philadelphia is called the “City of Brotherly Love.” Why do you love Philly? 

Brotherly Love, Sisterly Affection, and community respect are what makes Philadelphia such a special place to call home. I feel more at home here than almost any place I’ve lived—and it’s been a lot. And that’s because this community has been a part of my soul since I was a little boy. I will always remember celebrating my 8th birthday walking through the gigantic human heart at the Franklin Institute. Summers on the Jersey shore meant countless trips to Philly for food, museums, food, theatre, and more food. My dad bought my mom her engagement ring on Jeweler’s Row 50 years ago. My incredible husband and his entire family grew up here, too. So this city is deeply personal to me.   

It’s a city of constant new growth, firmly grounded in American history. So many firsts from the 18th to the 21st centuries happened in Philly. And every day I walk through the city I see another new crane in the sky, a new restaurant, a new condo— but I also see a city whose rich, complex diversity is its biggest asset. For every new crane in the sky, there’s a new need for affordable housing and healthcare for those displaced. I’ve worked in a lot of cities, but few are trying as hard as Philly to ensure that every voice from every community is heard as progress is made. I deeply respect how government and community leaders are committed to not let anyone fall through the cracks while we watch our city grow.  

I never imagined I’d be living here, but this city has welcomed my husband and me with open arms. As one of the most racially and socially diverse cities in America, everything about Philly celebrates the importance of communities coming together to solve problems and find solutions that reflect the richness of diversity around them. This is a scrappy city of hardworking, passionate people—and I am falling in love with the large number of local organizations that do so much for so many communities here. I look out my office window and see nothing but cranes in the sky building new towers and apartments. It’s very much a city on the rise, and Steve and I are loving our time here, especially the nonprofits who have been so generous in asking us to emcee events and support them locally. I look forward to finding many opportunities to be of service to my community in my new city and state.

This city inspires me every day to want to do more to help my fellow Philly Brother and Sister. Whether that means going into the private sector and advocating for change in companies, or going in the public sector and running for office, I’m going to do something public and something that will help as many people as I can because that’s what I care most about.

Philly pride was scheduled for Sunday, June 14, 2020

The actual Pride street festival may have been canceled, but pride is very much a part of everyday life in the great city of Philadelphia. As we’re celebrating the 50th anniversary of the first celebrations, it is a stunning reminder that history doesn’t always repeat itself, but it definitely rhymes. Once again the movement for long-overdue social change in America is being led by communities of color. And the LGBT community stands in solidarity with them. I am proud and grateful to be working with LGBTQ community leaders in Philadelphia, with some extraordinary black queer leaders at the helm, to repurpose Pride 2020 as a march of solidarity between the LGBTQ community and our brothers and sisters of color. If you don’t think racial justice is an LGBT fight too, you don’t get it. The unique threads of diversity that weave together forming our community highlight that our causes are forever linked. LGBT people are black and brown, Asian and Native American, abled and disabled, and so much more. But we all fight, march, and commit ourselves to one goal: a nation that sees us, respects us, treats each of us as equals. 

As one of the most diverse cities in America, we in Philly have the privilege of watching LGBTQ success happen in every community, in every corner of our city.   If the rainbow crosswalks and street signs don’t make you smile on your way to work each morning in Center City, being one of the incredibly few cities to have a full-time LGBTQ liaison, an LGBTQ advisory commission, countless nonprofits and service organizations, and recognition throughout the country as a place where Pride was born in America, and where Pride thrives today. 

And, because one day of Pride is never enough, Philly proudly boasts a year-long calendar of events—like Philly Black Pride, QFlix film festival, and OutFest—my favorite event of the year for our communities.

Why would you say pride celebrations important? 

Pride is one of our most powerful, public acts of positive civil disobedience. The very act of being out, proud, and demanding your most basic rights as an American and human being can be a profound political statement. We should never take that for granted or treat the importance of it lightly.  And most importantly, we can not—we must not—ever hide.

Visibility gives me pride. We have come so far in the fifty years since Stonewall, and while the road ahead is long and uncertain, it has more allies and more out members of our family on it than ever before. I end every speech or lecture I give with these words that push me to keep serving by the brilliant queer anthropologist Margaret Mead: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” I am so proud to be a part of a community whose mere visible existence is an act of defiance and a profound statement that we are all committed to changing the world so it welcomes and celebrates all of us. 

As someone who currently works at the intersection of community and economic opportunity, pride is a way to remind corporations, government agencies, and one another of our economic power. We SPEND over $917 billion as consumers, and contribute more than $1.7 TRILLION as business owners—the LGBT community is a force to be reckoned with all year long.

When you look at a price tag, look for an indication that the company is an LGBT-inclusive corporation or an NGLCC Certified Business Enterprise. It has never been easier to go online or check with your local gay chamber of commerce to make sure you support the brands that have our community’s back. If you are an LGBT business owner and not yet certified as one, you’re leaving opportunities on the table to help your business and be counted as part of our global economy. You could join our ranks as a role model, job creator, and future LGBT business success story.

Use the community’s trillion-dollar clout to make a difference. Support your community when you shop, seek out LGBTQ-owned businesses when you invest and stand by those who stand with us. The Human Rights Campaign and other organizations make it easier than ever to find those earning top marks for supporting and investing directly in our communities.

Money talks. And now, more than ever, the private sector is listening to the collective voice of our community. In many ways, our dollar is as strong as our votes at the ballot box. So when it comes to chicken — and everything else — follow the money and be sure it’s finding its way back to helping all of us succeed. And, of course, remember that not all chicken nuggets taste the same. Some taste like they hate you. And why on earth would you give such a company your hard-earned dollars?

Favorite bar to check out in Philly? 

Long before my life in politics, I was a stage and television performer, so the live-piano open mic at Tavern on Camac is a must. My favorite hang-out bars in Philly are U-Bar and Knock, both known for a great environment and a commitment to supporting local community groups and causes.

What are we going to buy you there? 

Philly breweries are not to be missed. If you’re a beer fan, as I am, I highly recommend checking out the many Philly-area beers and even whiskey distilleries you can sample when out and about. 

What are a few of your favorite restaurants to check out once everything is open again? 

The entire City of Philadelphia feels gay-friendly, more so than many cities I’ve been in over the years. While you have countless, delicious, LGBT-owned options in the Gayborhood, you can find some outstanding restaurants by world-class chefs throughout the city.  You can often my best friends and me starting off our weekend at Brickwall, a sports bar with great food and a very welcoming, LGBT-inclusive atmosphere.

Philadelphia’s business community has helped highlight minority-owned businesses we can support during this crisis, especially small restaurants who urgently need our purchasing power. And helping LGBT Americans through this time is key to helping all Americans succeed. We can never forget that our community includes women, communities of color, people with disabilities, immigrants, veterans, and so many others who need us to stand in solidarity for a stronger, more inclusive economy on the other side of this outbreak.

Do you have a favorite Philly neighborhood? Why is that neighborhood special to you? 

Center City, especially the Gayborhood, feels like the beating heart of this incredible city.  On any given day you have street festivals, live music, new shops and restaurants, and a beautiful swirl of diverse communities and experiences all coming together under the shadows of our gorgeous skyscrapers and magnificent City Hall clocktower.

You travel quite a bit for work, do you have any other favorite prides? 

When I was touring with shows, I would make a point of getting to know the local scene wherever we were performing. As much as I loved exploring and living in cities like Chicago and Los Angeles, it was places like Birmingham, Alabama, or South Dakota where I met people who would drive 50 or 100 miles for a sense of community, that really inspired me. It was beautiful to witness this at a young age, and it made me realize how easy my personal coming out process was. It was getting out and hearing those stories that drove me toward advocacy and a desire to make it better for people in cities less progressive than where I grew up.

When my husband and I went to Hawaii for our honeymoon, I finally visited all 50 states. Now I want to find a way to attend a Pride in all 50, too.  Besides Philly Pride—which his AMAZING—I always love Orlando Pride, one of the largest in the country and a great excuse to see my family and the amazing advocates in Florida I grew up fighting with for equality.

How would you say that pride differs from Philly Pride? 

Every Pride is special in how they reflect the local community. That is why EVERYONE deserves to be represented in their hometown pride: the activists and the agitators, the corporations and the community groups, the police, and the protestors. The prides that welcome and include every community are the ones doing it right. We have no business excluding anyone in our celebration of love and community; outside forces will try and do enough of that for us. 

And back home, what are a few places that anyone coming to Philadelphia must check out? 

Philadelphia is one of the nation’s most historically rich and culturally vibrant cities. On the same night that a world-class symphony is playing at the Kimmel Center, world champion sporting teams are playing at the stadium. Our art museums are not to be missed—especially the Philadelphia Museum of Art (home of the Rocky Steps, “Yo, Adrienne”) and the Barnes Collection. Odds are, if you love something about American life it started in Philly, so don’t miss out on our walking tours and guided historical site visits. And don’t you dare come to town hungry— to leave without a cheesesteak is a sin.

Where should we get a cheesesteak and how should we order it? 

“wit whiz” – and I like to get crazy with hot peppers.  Jim’s in South Philly is my favorite… but that just means I have many, many more to try in my city.

And lastly, where can we find you online/social media? 

@jdlovitz on Twitter and Instagram— and JonathanDLovitz.com has an easy way to email me. Stay in touch, and as I always say, “Let’s make a difference.”