The blue wave ain’t over just yet. In one of the most intense election years we’ve seen in the history of the United States, newly activated voters showed up to the polls in droves, voting in a wave of LGBTQ+ legislators, many of whom are first-time officeholders. One city that led the charge, helping turn the state of Pennsylvania blue, is Philadelphia.
Jonathan Lovitz was among several Philly queer activists — including the LGBTQ Victory Fund’s Sean Meloy, organizer Jason Evans, politicians Brian Sims, Malcolm Kenyatta, Jessica Benham, and more — who banded together to create sophisticated approaches to voter registration, which made all the difference when now-President Joe Biden defeated Donald Trump there by about 80,000 votes.
As senior vice president of the National LGBT Chamber of Commerce for the past six years, Lovitz has helped pass nearly 20 laws over a dozen states to elevate queer small business owners and advance opportunities for marginalized communities. Now he believes he can make an even bigger change. This spring, he announced his run for the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, where he could join a growing number of out officials in the state.
“This moment needs someone who can be simultaneously a megaphone for those who need to have their voice amplified but also a key to unlocking resources that many people don’t know were available to them,” says Lovitz.
“We need to keep LGBTQ+ representation and we need to continue building a class of new, young, progressive, diverse candidates who are as good at galvanizing their community as they are at organizing, business, and making change. To come to the table, we need people who really value hard work in fixing the system.”
If elected, Lovitz would have his work cut out for him. In 2019, Philadelphia, known as the “poorest big city” in America, had a poverty rate of 23.3 percent. Repercussions of the pandemic have made life worse for those disproportionately impacted by corrupt economic and political systems, including LGBTQ+ people, women, and people of color. The situation is ironic given that the city was, literally, the birthplace of the American dream. However, that dream, even today, is dependent on a system that only benefits a certain kind of group. Lovitz, who is also Jewish, says he’s determined to change that.
“Equality of opportunity is key to everything,” says Lovitz, who’s been married to his husband for three years. “I joined my first union almost 15 years ago and I have seen what happens when we don’t take care of workers’ rights, when we don’t take care of living conditions for those who we expect to to take care of us and our kids and our families. Society breaks down and those systems fall apart. We have to reaffirm the power of unions, the power of good living wages, and everything that comes with that. Health care and education are basic human rights that anyone who pays into the system at any level should have unfettered access to. And when they get access to it, they shouldn’t have to jump through hoops or prove who they are. One of the most important lessons I learned in the union was standing shoulder to shoulder with people who come from different walks of life than you. You understand that you all want the same thing, which is a better way of life for you and your family.”
Lovitz argues that if we want stability, it starts with our pocketbooks. In order for that to happen, we need to prioritize jobs and higher wages, things that historically have been hard to achieve for low-income households in Philadelphia. A post-pandemic recovery, he says, is the perfect opportunity to course-correct.
“Think of the moment we’re in, coming out of COVID, trying to rebuild our middle class, trying to help the least [privileged] among us get back on their feet,” he says. “When we help our small businesses succeed, that helps our big businesses do better, which allows us to hire more people to put more resources into the community. We will not solve the systemic inequities, the systemic racism, homophobia, transphobia, misogyny, and all the hate that is out there until people start feeling comfortable, once again, just leaving their front door after 6 P.M. Crime and poverty and societal unrest are all inextricably linked to a rigged system. One of the ways to get there is to make sure we have the most equitable recovery possible.”
Lovitz argues that, “The most important thing an elected official can do is improve the quality of life for the people that they work for. As we’re looking at recovery, it cannot just be those who have access to websites and portals and the most privileged access to their representatives that can get help.”
He wants to create hands-on assistance, including helping people “handwrite and fill out forms to get resources. We have to take care of our neighbors in a way that I don’t know America has seen since the Great Depression or World War II.”
“I have seen and experienced firsthand the power of building a bigger table, adding chairs to that table and coming together to bake more pie to share with everyone at that table. That is how you have an equitable recovery.”
This story is part of Out's 2021 Pride Issue, which is on newsstands on now! To get your own copy directly, support queer media and subscribe — or download yours for Amazon, Kindle, Nook, or Apple News.