Oregon is becoming one of those places, like California and New York, that is known to look beyond gender and orientation lines. Last month Portland elected openly gay Sam Adams as mayor of the esteemed Rose City, but long before that -- 14 years, to be exact -- lesbian Jennifer Bills became police lieutenant of Oregon's second largest city, Eugene. Strangely enough, Bills gained a reputation as an anti-authority figure who often clashed with police while attending the University of Oregon in Eugene as a young woman.
As a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up? I think I wanted to be a veterinarian. But there's a photo of me at about 8 years old and I've got a SWAT hat and jacket on. I remember playing cops and robbers, and I was always the cop.
As a student, how did you experience the police? Were you ever on the "wrong" side of the law? I saw them as the bad guys. When I was student body president I spent a lot of time debating issues with the officer assigned to campus. I didn't want to have anything to do with what he was telling me!
How do you reconcile your activism with your career choice? You have door knockers and door kickers. I've never been a door kicker. I've had people tell me I'm a sellout, but I'd rather knock on the door, get inside, and start making changes.
People have opinions about the police based on individual moments and how individual officers handle themselves. There are people out there who are doing well because I intervened. In the end, it really is about a service you provide.
Has police work changed you as a person? You rarely deal with people at their best. I think I'm a little more cynical because of that, and more protective of my family.
What's it like being an out cop? You can't separate being a lesbian from being a woman. What they see first is the woman. Choosing whether or not to come out comes next. I'm out; I don't know what "in" would feel like.
People working with you, getting to know you, and seeing your abilities really does change hearts and minds. When my son was born there weren't any domestic-partner benefits; they'd never dealt with a lesbian parent. They gave me "compassionate leave," which is what they give when someone dies, so I could be with my partner and son.
What are your aspirations?The only thing I want to do right now is get through the '08 Olympic trials. We're expecting about 17,000 visitors a day. That's like having a U of O football game every day for two weeks.