UI police officer details many identities


Photo Courtesy of Tara Hurless

Tara Hurless proposes to her wife in front of a small propeller plane in 2015. Hurless’s life has been a series of twists and turns that have shaped her into the woman she is today.

By Farrah Anderson, Assistant Longform Editor

When Tara Hurless of the University Police Department, a middle-aged woman with short blonde hair, approached a man as a back-up officer on duty, he insisted he was being targeted because he was gay.

However, Hurless said she was sure he wasn’t expecting her response.

“‘You are talking to the wrong person because I’m just as gay as you are,’” Hurless said. 

Hurless, 38, has worn many different uniforms: a plaid skirt as a Catholic school student, Dri-FIT jerseys as a University of Illinois and international soccer player and a black ensemble with the number “101” ironed on the sleeve as a University police officer. 

“I represented the University of Illinois wearing orange and blue number 16 and I get to do that again,” Hurless said. “I just have a different number.” 

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Hurless reports for duty in a squad car on campus with the University of Illinois Police Department. As a part of the community outreach and support team, she said her main focus is building relationships with the campus community. 

Hurless’ supervisor, Sgt. James Carter, said he thinks people can see the authenticity in the way Hurless approaches her work in the community

“When you get Tara, you get Tara,” Carter said.

When Hurless came to the department, people told her to not say anything about the fact that she was gay. But she said she never wanted to hide who she was.

Hurless said she was proud after a coworker told her that he decided to come out after seeing her talk about her identity.

“He said, ‘never until you got here for you being who you are did I feel comfortable telling people about me,’” Hurless said.

If you Google the name Tara Hurless, Hall of Fame records and photos of a her kicking a ball might be the main result. However, Hurless said her personal identity wasn’t as public. 

“I had two different lives,” she said. “I came to school and I was very successful in soccer. But going home, there was always this thing I was hiding because of how I was brought up.” 

Although her wife Jess, a listing coordinator at The Nate Evans Group in Mahomet, said that they now have a huge support system, both of the women’s families haven’t always been supportive.

Jess was raised in a Mennonite family. Tara, a Catholic one. 

To their families, a same-sex relationship like theirs went against their religious convictions. But Tara said she tried explaining to her mom that she was still the same person, gay or not.

“I basically said to my mom, ‘I’m still the same person you never had a problem with before,’” she said. “I’ve never been this person to mold into what you want me to be.”

Even after dating Jess for almost two years, Tara said her mom still couldn’t accept the fact that she had a daughter who was gay.

“When I told my mom in 2015 that I was going to propose to Jess, she begged me not to,” she said. “I think it was the stigma that goes along with being different.”

Tara proposed to Jess during a ride in a two-seater airplane.

At their backyard wedding in 2016, Tara said her mom didn’t understand until the celebration was almost over.

“Not until halfway into the night was my mom able to sit back and be like, ‘Wow, it doesn’t matter. People just love them for who they are,'” Tara said.

Jess’ family didn’t come to the wedding, and for the couple, they both said it wasn’t easy not having the support of their families.

“We were just disappointed that we didn’t have one side or the other that were on board,” Jess said. “But we were still able to focus on the good and the excitement and the love.” 

Jess said she didn’t want to come out to her family until someone serious came into her life. And once she met Tara through a mutual friend and had her support, she said she was finally ready to do it.

“I was going to wait until it was someone of great importance in my life so they couldn’t look at it as a phase,” Jess said. 

In 2018, Tara donned her new uniform: a mom to Hazel, a mischievous blonde toddler.

Tara and Jess experienced difficulties in starting a family.

After securing a donor and getting pregnant, Tara suffered a miscarriage. And then another. 

Once she had her first miscarriage, Tara said she couldn’t understand why no one ever talked about them. 

“No one told me that this could happen,” Tara said. “Maybe I live under a rock but people do not talk about miscarriages. It’s just not a topic people share.” 

Even though Jess said she could empathize with Tara’s fertility struggles as a woman herself, she said it was incredibly difficult to watch Tara not feel good enough.

“It was hard watching her feel like she was letting us down or me down because she had a plan of what she was going to do for our family,” Jess said.

After undergoing expensive fertility treatments and surgeries to address a cyst and endometriosis, Tara said an IVF treatment finally worked.

When the plus sign emerged on the thin plastic strip, Tara said Jess wouldn’t believe it until they saw the word “pregnant” appear. After driving to another town and taking another test, it finally sunk in.

Tara said she wants Hazel to become independent and proud of her identity.

“I want her to be able to be whoever she is and know that we want you to be who you are and be a good example of strong women,” Tara said.

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