Now that Justin Thomas Ritchie has his first full-length album recording “Feels Like Home” in his hand, the realization of a long-time dream, he says, feels wonderful.
“It’s been a goal for so long, it feels really satisfying to just have it and sort of put it out there in the universe,” says the 37-year-old Norfolk, Va., native.
“Feels Like Home,” a collection of pop/easy listening covers featuring songs such as Dolly Parton’s “Travelin’ Through” and U2’s “Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For,” was recorded earlier this year in New York with producer Rick Jensen after Ritchie raised $20,000 through a Kickstarter Campaign. The album was released in June and is available on iTunes and at justinthomasritchie.com, where concert dates are also listed.
Ritchie works in information technology for the American Institute for Cancer Research by day but is active in all kinds of musical endeavors on the side. He was formerly musical director at Metropolitan Community Church of Washington and now ministers at Clarendon Presbyterian Church. He’s a member of the Gay Men’s Chorus and also does cabaret and theater shows in D.C. and New York.
He and Jason Beverly married at MCC in April after 10 years together. They live in Anacostia. Ritchie enjoys running, yoga, spirituality, photography, travel and music in his free time.
How long have you been out and who was the hardest person to tell?
I’ve been out since I was 19. The hardest people to tell were my parents. I grew up in a very conservative and religious home and it was hard on all of us when I came out. My parents have come a long way — they love my husband, we’ve taken vacations together and they were at our wedding in April and stood up for us in the ceremony.
Who’s your LGBT hero?
Harvey Milk and Bayard Rustin, although I regard all of those LGBT people who came before me and paved the way for the rights I enjoy today as heroes.
What’s Washington’s best nightspot, past or present?
When I moved to Washington, we were all at Apex every weekend dancing. Now, a great “nightspot” is anyplace I can meet friends and family for great conversation and D.C. has no shortage of great spots for that.
Describe your dream wedding.
It’s pretty simple. My dream wedding is where our friends and family (of origin and chosen) are gathered, I’m standing next to the man I love and when we declare before each other our commitment. I consider myself very lucky because I had that dream wedding a couple of months ago when I married my long-time partner, Jason.
What non-LGBT issue are you most passionate about?
I’m most passionate about working toward economic equality and affordable health care for everyone. We’ve made some great progress on the health care front recently. I really believe there is enough to go around and that we are our brother and sister’s keepers. We need to take care of each other.
What historical outcome would you change?
The starting of war. I grew up in a Navy house and watched my father leave for Desert Storm. My brother is a Marine officer and has done three tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. I’ve seen first-hand the impact of war on my immediate family. I’m reminded of the poster originally done by Lorraine Schneider in 1966 that says, “War is not healthy for children and other living things.” That pretty much sums it up.
What’s been the most memorable pop culture moment of your lifetime?
Hearing that Whitney Houston died. I grew up listening to Whitney’s music, the soundtrack of so many stages of my life. I also identified with her struggle with substances as a recovering person myself. I was heartbroken when I heard she was gone. Such a talented woman whom we lost way too soon.
On what do you insist?
Love, honesty, respect.
What was your last Facebook post or Tweet?
“If you don’t like the road you’re walking, start paving another one”
— Dolly Parton
If your life were a book, what would the title be?
“I’m Not Finished Yet”
If science discovered a way to change sexual orientation, what would you do?
Honestly, I’d assume some religious zealot was proselytizing junk science and disregard it. If it were true somehow, I’d respond with, “I’m happy just the way I am, thank you very much.”
What do you believe in beyond the physical world?
The love you give and the love you’ve been given never die.
What’s your advice for LGBT movement leaders?
Be sure you’re including everyone. Far too often we still leave members of our community on the margins.
What would you walk across hot coals for?
A really good grilled-cheese sandwich. Is that terrible?
What LGBT stereotype annoys you most?
The misinformation that exists that we’re not interested in long-term committed relationships and that we’re somehow not “built” for that.
What’s your favorite LGBT movie?
“Jeffrey.” I think it was the first LGBT movie I’d ever seen and it still ranks as the best one.
What’s the most overrated social custom?
I used to think this was a very Washington thing, but I’ve come to see it happens in a lot of places. When someone asks, especially at the very beginning of meeting someone, “What do you do?” It’s just a pet peeve of mine.
What trophy or prize do you most covet?
As a singer and now a recording artist I would, of course, love to have a Grammy (me and millions of other people, right?). Really though, trophies and prizes don’t drive my love for music. Sharing my music with as many people as I can is what really motivates me. It’s my contribution to the world and how I try to make it a better place.
What do you wish you’d known at 18?
You’re enough and you’re perfect just the way you are. I want everyone to know that when they’re 18!
I came here to do musical theater and to live in a large city with lots of people like me. New York seemed too much and Washington was the next best thing. What I’ve discovered in 13 years of living here is a fantastic city. It’s progressive and forward thinking, full of music and theater and culture and a wonderful place to live. It’s home.