I’ve conducted numerous unannounced inspections of the jail, talking with incarcerated individuals about their concerns and needs. I’ve advocated for trans folks who are incarcerated, and fought to expose the archaic process by which the jail classifies the gender of incarcerated individuals (according to the gender listed by the police in their arrest report). The work at changing these policies has always been and must always be centered around trans folks, strategizing with them not about them without them in the conversation.
This is the next post of our 2023 primary election season series ‘Political Q&A’ with progressive candidates throughout Pennsylvania. Candidates can be anywhere in Pennsylvania running for any level of office. Please note that these are not necessarily endorsements, more of an opportunity for candidates to connect with the LGBTQ community, progressives neighbors, and others with an interest in Western Pennsylvania. If your candidate would like to participate, please contact us pghlesbian at gmail dot com. We welcome candidates at all levels of government across the entire Commonwealth.
I first met Bethany Hallam during her (victorious) campaign to serve on Allegheny County Council in 2019. I was struck by her fearless belief in herself and her capacity to change the status quo from within. She doesn’t distance herself from her narrative, she uses her experiences to inform her work now and builds bridges with people who have rarely seen themselves in their elected officials. A couple of year ago, Bethany called me because she had found abandoned kittens. She gathered information, rallied her troops, and had the kittens in good permanent homes. She did not expect me to come do the work for her. She did not argue with me about my suggestions. She acknowledged that this could tie into larger systemic County governance issues. It was a reflection of how she serves on Council.
I think Bethany gets a lot of vicious scrutiny because she’s a woman with opinions and a determination to change things. That’s an important narrative to consider as we continue just smashing through the glass ceiling on all levels of government. And it is important that we are take a closer look at County government – we are electing a Chief Executive, County Controller, County Treasurer, several Council seats, and it all matters. County government matters.
Your Name: Bethany Hallam
Your Pronouns: she/her
The Office You Seek: Allegheny County Council, At-Large
How do you describe your identity?
I’m a cisgender straight formerly incarcerated person in long-term recovery from opioid use disorder.
Tell us about your district. What is a hidden gem most people might not know about?
The at-large district county-wide in Allegheny County is super diverse. My favorite part about the district is the variety of experiences of the people who live in different regions of the county. My favorite hidden gems are all the amazing restaurants I’ve discovered around the county! Two of my favorites are Fig & Ash in the Northside (get the pork chop!) and Nancy’s in Wilkinsburg (get the havarti & apple grilled cheese with some chili!).
Tell us about the first LGBTQ person you met and what impact they had on your life?
My cousin Chris was the first queer person I ever met. I’ve known him my entire life, yet I only found out he was gay when I was in elementary school. In our family, it was accepted and he was loved, so I grew up knowing that it didn’t matter who you love – we love you the same as always. When Chris passed away a few years ago, I promised myself I would always live my life in a way that embodied his positive outlook on the world: loving everyone until they show you why you shouldn’t, living every day to its fullest (“without a timeline” as he loved to say), and to enjoy the good days and the bad days. I miss him every day and carry him in my heart everywhere I go.
How has your familiarity with the LGBTQ community in your district and the region changed since you took office?
Prior to running, discussions with queer folks shaped my passion for passing a conversion therapy ban, and it was one of our first accomplishments after I was sworn in to County Council. I have had the opportunity to continue to meet with and learn from members of the LGBTQ community from all over Allegheny County in my role on County Council as well as all over Pennsylvania through my role on Pennsylvania’s Democratic State Committee.
Based on this, what do you understand to be our top LGBTQ concerns and priorities for County Council? How will you respond to those priorities?
The LGBTQ community in Allegheny County as a whole is very diverse and brings a range of concerns and priorities that vary from person to person. I will always work to ensure that inclusion is at the top of mind for any decisions I make. I will continue to work with members of the LGBTQ community when fighting for a more equitable future for everyone. The following question addresses the treatment of trans people of color, particularly trans women of color, in our jail, which is still a top concern of mine.
In your 2019 Q&A, you said “my top concern is the treatment of trans people in the County Jail, particularly trans women of color” How have you addressed this concern over the past four years? What will you do in the next four if reelected?
In my 2019 Q&A I wrote that we need to fire Warden Harper and replace him with somebody who will actively fight the transphobia he has allowed to dictate his jail policy – which I still strongly believe and advocate for each and every month as I bring attention to this and other gross human rights violations happening inside the jail.
During my first term in office, I brought increased attention to this and other issues through my role on the Jail Oversight Board. I’ve conducted numerous unannounced inspections of the jail, talking with incarcerated individuals about their concerns and needs. I’ve advocated for trans folks who are incarcerated, and fought to expose the archaic process by which the jail classifies the gender of incarcerated individuals (according to the gender listed by the police in their arrest report). The work at changing these policies has always been and must always be centered around trans folks, strategizing with them not about them without them in the conversation.
Nearly every social issue or challenge has fallen to the criminal punishment system—and as a result, to police—to address, yet they neither have the tools nor the resources to actually tackle those issue
Allegheny County rescinded domestic partner benefits in 2015, citing the Supreme Court decision legalizing marriage equality. Fast forward to 2022 and the undermining of Roe v Wade legal arguments that underpin the marriage equality rulings. How would you propose County Council revisit domestic partner benefits for all employees, both same sex and opposite sex?
I would support County Council reinstating domestic partner benefits for all Allegheny County employees.
Please give an example of how intersectionality has informed your Council work these past four years?
Intersectionality is at the core of my work on council – whether I’m looking at environmental issues, negotiating a budget, sitting on the Jail Oversight board, or on the Board of Elections, it is key to consider how policy will impact different groups of people and who may need extra support to mitigate previous harm or disadvantages. No one issue we work on exists in a silo – all of the issues are connected.
You have been brutally honest about the impact of opioid addiction on your life and the lives of your family members. We, the public, often hear about the attacks and insults you endure. What about the other moments when you interact with other people in recovery or their loved ones, people still in active addiction? How do those experiences inform your work?
My work is fully informed by my experiences and the experiences of my community. I believe it is important for people of all backgrounds to see themselves represented in government. It is so important that people in recovery or active addiction and their loved ones have someone representing them who can see them and understand what they’re going through. I love meeting people in the community who have heard and related to my story, and see the excitement in their face that they too could run for office someday despite their past. From housing to transit to the work we do to reform our jail and everything in between, our County government has the tools to provide resources that could drastically change lives if we can reach our neighbors who need it the most.
Please give an example of when another member of Council has persuaded you to change or adjust your perspective on an issue.
When we were debating the independent police review board legislation, it was a super contentious time. There were two competing ordinances for the review board, one spearheaded by Councilmember Bennett and myself, and one spearheaded by the administration and its cronies on Council. Ours had more teeth, and would’ve produced better results, whereas the administration’s version was less effective but still more than we had at the time in regards to police oversight. I was adamant that we not negotiate with them when they weren’t willing to budge on their legislation, but Councilmember Bennett and I had a long talk about it, and she persuaded me that “perfection is a tool of white supremacy” that keeps us from incremental victories in our fight for monumental achievements. She made me realize that creating a police review board was the first step, and that we could strengthen it with amendments over time, but that it was important to pass an unperfect version of the legislation to start the oversight process, while working to improve it as we see how it plays out in practice.
Criminal justice reform is a comprehensive series of policies addressing everything from sentencing guidelines to the everyday lived experiences of the incarcerated human beings, our neighbors. It is the jail, the courts, the personnel, and more. What do you think is the biggest political barrier to reform? What is the biggest pragmatic or practical barrier? Are they the same or not?
Nearly every social issue or challenge has fallen to the criminal punishment system—and as a result, to police—to address, yet they neither have the tools nor the resources to actually tackle those issues. Mental health and substance use disorders, housing instability, community and familial violence are all matters that are primarily dealt with through the criminal punishment system, and often leading to counterproductive and destructive results. We have to reinvest those resources currently allocated for punishment and incarceration to programs that rehabilitate and divert people from those systems.
Budget reform poses political and practical challenges – we must create buy in and show fellow council members and the public that reallocating funds to providing housing, improving education, and expanding healthcare are all proven to do more to combat violence and community insecurity more than the traditional “tough on crime” approach that has been failing us for the past half century now. Practically, we must ensure that the new resources we’re funding are community informed, effective, and do not create more harm.
You face a lot of critique of your conduct, language, behavior, and social media usage. To me as a woman, this narrative is familiar – it is not your politics, it is your conduct that is always under scrutiny. Why are Allegheny County Democrats, especially men, so reactive to an assertive woman in office or any role?
Tone policing is often used as a tool, particularly against women and people of color, to avoid the actual issue at hand. There are many assertive activists in Allegheny County working hard to make change, and folks who have benefited the most from business as usual approaches don’t always appreciate challenges to the status quo. Sometimes you need to be outspoken and bold to get results, and I will NEVER be afraid to ask the tough questions and stand up for what I believe in.
How do competitive primary elections benefit the residents of a community?
Democracy is based around choice and without competitive primaries, communities don’t have the opportunity to choose who will go on to represent their party in a general election (and hopefully win that election and represent them while in office). Elections are job interviews for candidates. At the end of your term you should be able to show tangible results and plans for your next term. First time candidates should have ideas of how they would be an improvement from the incumbent. A healthy democracy relies on competitive primaries so voters can rally behind the candidate that closest aligns with their values, not just have to support the only person running on their party’s platform.
Tell me about your other endorsements and supporters. (We can update this as the season unfolds.)
In 2019 I was endorsed by organizations including Clean Water Action, The Sierra Club, Pennsylvania Young Democrats, Our Revolution Pennsylvania, Women for the Future of Pittsburgh, Steel City Stonewall Democrats, Run For Something, and AFT Local 2067. I was also recommended by the Young Democrats of Allegheny County. I was endorsed by elected officials and community members including State Representative Summer Lee; State Representative Sara Innamorato; Marita Garrett, the mayor of Wilkinsburg; Emily Marburger, the mayor of Bellevue; Brittany Reno, Sharpsburg Borough Council President; Jack Betkowski, Ross Township Commissioner; Allison Mathis, North Hills School Board; Sandra Kozera, North Hills School Board; Emily Skopov, 2018 Democratic Nominee for State Representative; and Darwin Leuba, Auditor of O’Hara Township.
For the 2023 cycle, I am in the process of compiling endorsements from mission aligned elected officials, labor groups, and other progressive organizations.
I love meeting people in the community who have heard and related to my story, and see the excitement in their face that they too could run for office someday despite their past. From housing to transit to the work we do to reform our jail and everything in between, our County government has the tools to provide resources that could drastically change lives if we can reach our neighbors who need it the most.
Finally, what are three reasons people should vote for you/support your campaign?
Bringing transparency and attention to County government
During my first term, I have been proud to use creative approaches to get people to pay attention to and expect more from their County Council. We introduced multiple pieces of legislation centered around additional transparency and checks & balances in the legislative process, and opened the budget process to be more accessible to the public through town halls and raising awareness around the contents of the budget.
My background and lived experiences
While playing varsity lacrosse for North Hills High School, I tore both my ACL’s, one immediately after recovering from the other. At the time, the overdose epidemic was not as well known as it is today. I was over-prescribed Vicodin, and as a result, became addicted to prescription opioids. I began my recovery in 2016, and I am fortunate for the support systems that helped make that possible.
Due to my struggles with addiction, I have spent time in our county jail and have temporarily lost my driver’s license. I’ve seen first-hand the problems in our jail, and I also understand how critical public transit is to so many Allegheny County residents, myself included. My background brings a unique insight to council, and that’s exactly what we need in order to move council forward.
Got shit done
When I announced my campaign in 2019, I pledged to create a police review board, reform our County jail, and stop fracking in County parks. And we did just that! We created a civilian police review board. We banned fracking in our County parks. We brought attention to dangerous conditions at the jail and instituted a monthly stipend for incarcerated individuals at no cost to taxpayers. We also won paid sick leave for all and stood with unionizing workers all around the
County. We increased funding for our community colleges, gave additional resources to the Housing Court Help Desk to help keep people in their homes, and protected our LGBTQIA+ neighbors by banning conversion therapy. I look forward to another term working together with all of our neighbors to create a safer and more equitable County.
Where can readers find your campaign on social media?
Is there anything you’d like to add?
If you like what you read, please visit my website (bethanyhallam.com) and sign up to volunteer!
This is our seventh year of creating and publishing these Q&As – nearly 80 to date. If you value this work, please consider investing in our blog. Become a Patreon. Create a Steel City Snowflake. Venmo @Pghlesbian Or consider other options. Thank you.
To participate in this Q&A series:
- you must be an LGBTQIA+ ally
- identify as pro-choice
- you must affirm that President Joe Biden won the 2020 election and that you accept the certified Pennsylvania’s election results
Other Q&A’s in this election cycle series. You can read previous cycle Q&A’s here.
- Q&A with Rachael Heisler, Candidate for Pittsburgh City Controller
- Q&A with Abigail Salisbury, Candidate for PA State House District 34
- Q&A with Erica Rocchi Brusselars, Candidate for Allegheny County Treasurer
- Q&A with Bethany Hallam, Incumbent Candidate for Allegheny County Council, At-Large
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