Pennsylvania’s 182nd House District is a storied piece of land in the center of Philadelphia, home to several corporate headquarters, City Hall, and Philly’s gayborhood. It was the first district in the state to elect an out representative, Brian Sims, a gay man who was first elected in 2012. Now that Sims is vacating the seat to run for lieutenant governor, four candidates are running in next Tuesday’s Democratic primary to replace him — a transgender woman, a gay man, and two straight cisgender men who identify as allies. There is one candidate in the Republican primary, but since the district is heavily Democratic, the winner of that party’s primary is very likely to win the seat in November. Today The Advocate offers interviews with the the gay candidate, Jonathan D. Lovitz (below), and the trans competitor, Deja Lynn Alvarez (here).
“Public service has been my calling for as long as I remember,” says Jonathan D. Lovitz, a gay man who’s one of four Democrats running for the Pennsylvania House of Representatives in the 182nd District, located in the center of Philadelphia.
Lovitz is competing with trans woman Deja Lynn Alvarez and straight cisgender allies Ben Waxman and Will Gross in the Democratic primary. They and one Republican, Albert Robles, are vying to succeed Brian Sims, the gay man who made history as Pennsylvania’s first out state legislator and is now running for lieutenant governor. Given the district’s makeup, the winner of the Democratic primary will almost certainly win the general election in November.
The Democrats have a good field, Lovitz says, but he asserts that his experience makes him the best candidate. He has been a political activist for years; an early involvement was with John Kerry’s 2004 presidential campaign, when Lovitz was in college in Florida. The LGBTQ+ community was under attack from the right, with marriage equality coming to Kerry’s home state of Massachusetts — and conservatives putting anti-marriage equality initiatives on ballots in numerous other states. Lovitz saw the need to fight back. “That resonated with me,” he says.
Lovitz, who was born in New Jersey just across the state line from Philadelphia, was already out and proud by the time of the Kerry campaign. He spent his teen years in Florida’s Broward County, which had inclusive antidiscrimination protections for students, and he came out at 16. “I know how rare and special my coming-out years were,” he says.
He is now senior vice president of the National LGBT Chamber of Commerce. In that capacity, in the past five years he has crafted, advocated for, and seen the passage of more than 30 state and local laws around the nation, aimed at bringing business opportunities to LGBTQ+ and other marginalized people.
During the 2020 election cycle, he helped register voters using a quick response code that allowed them to complete the process with minimal contact with other people, a key consideration during a global pandemic. In less than two months, the effort registered 1,000 new voters, mostly Black or LGBTQ+, he notes.
His other activities include volunteering as a mentor with AmeriCorps PA and Students Demand Action PA, fundraising for the Philadelphia Diversity and Inclusion Summit and the Liberty City LGBTQ Democratic Club, and supporting Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania, Gay Officers Action League Philadelphia, and Democratic Jewish Outreach PA. He is also on the boards of the Global Philadelphia Association and the William Way Community Center.
If he is elected to the legislature, he says, he’ll work to reduce crime and especially gun violence. “Nothing is more important to my neighbors in Philadelphia than addressing public safety,” he says. Other priorities include economic development, support for organized labor (he’s the only union member in the race, he says), strengthening public education, defending reproductive rights, and working for LGBTQ+ equality in a state that lacks an inclusive antidiscrimination law. “It is critical to my agenda,” he says of LGBTQ+ civil rights.
Lovitz is endorsed by several labor organizations, including the Philadelphia AFL-CIO and the Pennsylvania AFL-CIO. Among his other endorsers are activists for LGBTQ+ rights, such as David Mixner, Dennis and Judy Shepard, Jim Obergefell, Jeff Zarrillo and Paul Katami, Wilson Cruz, and George Takei, and gun control advocates Brandon Wolf, Fred Guttenberg, and the Moms Demand Action group. Find out more about Lovitz’s campaign here.