Gay rights advocate Mary Dunlap dies

BY Advocate.com Editors

January 23 2003 12:00 AM ET

Mary Dunlap, a prominent gay rights advocate and civil rights attorney, died Friday at her home in San Francisco, reports the San Francisco Chronicle. She was 54.

Dunlap, who was director of San Francisco's office of citizen complaints, the city's independent police watchdog agency, died after a battle with pancreatic cancer. At the time of her death, she was surrounded by friends and family and her partner of nearly 18 years, Maureen Mason.

Dunlap became head of the complaints office in 1996, overseeing the handling of complaints from citizens about police misconduct. She was credited with turning around an agency that had been plagued by internal problems and criticized for not being aggressive enough. There had also been a high turnover of directors.

"She rejuvenated [the agency]," Donna Medley, the office's acting director and chief investigator, said Tuesday. "It's such a rare opportunity to work for a political figure who has impeccable integrity, compassion, and a sense of humor."

Former San Francisco police chief Fred Lau, who often found himself at the opposing end of complaints regarding officer investigations, said, "I really respected her tenacity in fighting for what she thought was right. She was the consummate professional."

Before taking over the complaints office, Dunlap was a highly regarded civil rights attorney who argued before the Supreme Court on behalf of gay rights and gender equality. She was a founding member of Equal Rights Advocates, a public interest law firm that works on behalf of women subjected to sex discrimination.

Dunlap was also a professor at Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco, Golden Gate University, the University of San Francisco, and Stanford University, where she formed the law curriculum on sexual orientation. She also developed course work for law classes on sexual orientation at the University of Michigan.

Funeral arrangements are pending.

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