By Jess Semler
(Editor’s Note: Pittsburgh Current columnist Jess Semler recently sat down to chat with newly elected Allegheny County Council member at-large Bethany Hallam. Hallam, a Democrat, discussed a number of her legislative priorities with Semler, a long-time friend, who also won election last November Etna Borough Council in Allegheny County. The Pittsburgh Current is a publishing partner of the Capital-Star. The interview below has been lightly edited for length, content and clarity.)
Q: What are you excited to do first?
Hallam: The first thing I want to do is move the legislation that’s been on the table for the last few months that hasn’t been passed because we haven’t had a progressive council in place. The civilian police review board, conversion therapy ban are the first two things I want to make sure are settled as soon as we get to business. Then I want to make sure that we talk about jail legislation. It’s something I’ve campaigned on. It’s something there are literally thousands of people are suffering with right now inside our county jail.
Q: What is the difference now? How did it feel different when you had to sit in that spot in your official position versus being a candidate or someone on the outside?
Hallam: We got a lot of pressure about the presidency vote, that was really the only business we did today. I’m proud of the fact that I held my ground and did what I thought was right despite a lot of pressure to do otherwise. You know, I’m going to go home and sleep great tonight.
Q: If you had to tell yourself one thing five or 10 years ago, even though whatever past Bethany was going through, she still arrived at this moment right now, what would you say?
Hallam: If I would have told myself five years ago where I was going to be now, I would have laughed at myself, you know? So just, don’t stop fighting, don’t give up, because I have a lot of friends that did give up; battling addiction, battling mental health diagnoses, it’s really tough out there. So to know that if you keep fighting, you can get what you never thought you’d achieve. That to me is something that I can’t put a price tag on. That I can’t put into words, that I became my best possible self, right? That I didn’t think I could achieve, that my family or friends didn’t think I could achieve, and the only reason I did it was because I had so many people in my corner who fought for me everyday, it wasn’t just me.
Never in a million years would I have thought this is where I thought I’d be today. I thought I was going to be dead. I thought I would be where a lot of my other friends were, so jail, or rehab or dead. That’s where all the people that I had associated myself with are right now.
So I’m just one of the lucky ones. I want to make sure that people who are struggling right now know that it’s not the end, even if you feel you’re at your lowest point in your entire life, that might go on for a little bit but it’s not forever. As long as you don’t give up, as long as you have people that will smother you with love and support like I have, as long as you have a reason to keep on going, you can do great things, and I just want to make sure people know that because i had people that told me that, and I want to make sure I’m the person that tells other folks that are still struggling.
Q: If you would have talked to me about my race ten years ago, I wouldn’t have believed you. I wouldn’t believe that I’d be running, I wouldn’t believe that I’d be running as an out queer person
Your capacity for struggle and hardship and pain, is also the capacity we have for strength and hope. Bethany, because of your experiences what will that mean, the insight you’re bringing that folks that haven’t experienced that won’t have, it’s … huge.
Hallam: The insight you’ve provided me too, we have some similar personal struggles right now. The fact that I have a best friend who is able to feed off of me, and we’re able to feed off of each other and share with each other.
So, cool as hell, I’m elected to office now. Okay, sweet. But like a lot of my friends have been getting sworn in, or will be getting sworn in. So it’s not just about me. It’s the fact that the coalition we’re talking about is real. It’s actually happening so just to be able to see it come to fruition; last month my friends got sworn in to school board, today, me, Liv and Tom got sworn into County Council …
To see things like that, is this dream that we all hoped for, worked for, dreamt about but not it’s real. It’s surreal to me. To have a group of people who I can confide in, to talk about our days. I’m so so fortunate to have a coalition of elected officials that I can call my friends. It’s so important because we can’t do this alone. And as long as we support each other, especially other badass women we know we’re all gonna do great things.
Jess Semler is a columnist for the Pittsburgh Current, where this piece first appeared.