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Eric Lee, former Inouye aide, dies at 69

Eric Lee, gay news, Washington Blade

Eric Lee (Photo courtesy of the SS United States Trust)

Eric H.M. Lee, an attorney, former legislative director for the late U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii), and most recently the principal partner in Lee and Associates, a Washington consulting firm specializing in telecommunications issues, died March 31 from complications associated with a stroke. He was 69.

Prior to founding his consulting firm, Lee worked in the 1990s in various positions with AT&T and an Internet trade association on projects credited with shaping current federal policies for the U.S. telecommunications industry.

He played a role in developing the Telecommunications Act of 1996 which, among other things, addressed and the then nascent commercial Internet.

Lee, who was gay, was a supporter of LGBT rights organizations and provided behind-the-scenes advice to many of his activist friends working on strategy for advancing LGBT rights legislation, according to friends and professional colleagues.

“He was a very active supporter and informed participant,” said Will Burrington, a former colleague at AT&T who later became president of D.C.’s Gertrude Stein Democratic Club, the city’s largest LGBT political group.

“To me, aside from his brilliance, as a person, he was just a very authentic, nonjudgmental, inclusive friend, Burrington said.

A native Hawaiian, Lee graduated from Honolulu’s Iolani college preparatory school before going to Princeton University, where he received a bachelor’s degree with honors in European and modern Asian history. He received a law degree from Harvard University School of Law.

A Lee and Associates biography says he began his career in Washington working for Inouye on issues under the jurisdiction of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation. He later became staff counsel to the Senate Subcommittee on Foreign Trade and Tourism before serving as Inouye’s legislative director.

He next joined AT&T’s Regulatory Affairs Division in Basking Ridge, N.J. and later became public policy director for AT&T International before returning to Washington as a member of AT&T’s Government Relations office.

After working on issues surrounding the Telecommunications Act, Lee left AT&T to become public policy director of the Commercial Internet Exchange Association (CIX), the world’s first Internet trade association, his biography says.

Among other things, Lee played a key role organizing a coalition of companies that negotiated what became the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, considered a landmark statute that determines online copyright policy.

Brenda Lee, his sister who lives in Honolulu, described her brother as “very caring and thoughtful and generous with a great sense of humor.” She added, “He was very devoted to his family and his three nieces.”

Burrington said Lee was an active supporter of the arts and progressive political candidates, a “tireless advocate for the interests of his native Hawaii and one of the most well-read people I know.”

Lee’s work on behalf of his home state was recognized by the office of Sen. Mazie K. Hirono (D-Hawaii).

“I was very sorry to hear of Eric Lee’s passing,” said Hirono’s chief of staff, Betsy Lin, in an April 1 statement. “His service to Hawaii; as Sen. Daniel K. Inouye’s counsel, his continued support of the delegation, and his generosity of spirit will be missed,” Lin said.

Robert Garnet, another friend and former AT&T colleague, said he was among a number of friends that Lee helped when they faced hard times, such as unemployment. He said Lee took him under his wing and invited him to stay at Lee’s Dupont Circle apartment until he got back on his feet.

“And my story, or some version of it, was repeated many times for others, both before I arrived on his doorstep and afterwards,” Garnet said.

Lee is survived by his sisters Brenda and Terri Lee; his brother Earl Lee; and his nieces Alyson, Annaliese and Katrina Kintscher – all of Honolulu.

Other survivors include his friends, many from Washington, who say they considered themselves part of Lee’s extended family. They include Will (Bill) Burrington, Craig Huffman, Bruce Lehman, Robert Garnet, Patrick Keating, John Weinfurter, Raymond Zahrobsky, John Gallagher, Hana Sakuta, Kevin Hartmann, and numerous other friends.

Family members and friends said contributions can be made in Lee’s memory online or by mail to the Daniel K. Inouye Institute Fund, c/o Hawaii Community Foundation, 827 Fort Street Mall, Honolulu, Hawaii 96813 or through: http://www.hawaiicommunityfoundation.org/daniel-k-inouye-institute.

09
Apr
2014

Hawaii House gives final approval to same-sex marriage bill

Neil Abercrombie, Hawaii, Democratic Party, gay news, Washington Blade

Gov. Neil Abercrombie (D-Hawaii) (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

The Hawaii House of Representatives on Friday gave its final approval to a bill that would extend marriage rights to same-sex couples in the Aloha State.

The 30-19 vote took place 12 hours after lawmakers began debating the measure.

“This is about a move towards acceptance, tolerance and compassion,” state Rep. Sylvia Luke said.

State Rep. Mark Takai, who in 2011 voted against a bill that extended civil unions to same-sex couples in Hawaii, described Senate Bill 1 as the “right thing to do.”

“My yes vote for this bill is a vote for love, equality and fairness,” Takai said.

Lesbian state Rep. Jo Jordan is among those who voted against SB1.

“I had come to the decision that SB1 needed to [be] amended,” the lawmaker told Honolulu Magazine. “It wasn’t protective enough for everybody. And I truly know, my GLBT community is not going to go somewhere where they are not welcome.”

SB1 opponents also introduced 16 amendments to the bill that would have, among other things, created a task force to study the extension of marriage rights to same-sex couples in Hawaii and further strengthen religious protections that already exist in the measure. Lawmakers rejected all of them in voice votes.

The Hawaii House approved the bill two days after the chamber passed it on its second reading following five days of testimony from SB1 supporters and opponents. The state Senate on Oct. 30 overwhelmingly approved the measure.

Gays and lesbians can legally marry in 14 states and D.C.

Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn on Nov. 20 is scheduled to sign a bill into law that will allow same-sex marriage in his state.

The Hawaii Supreme Court in 1993 ruled the denial of marriage rights to same-sex couples is unconstitutional. The ruling prompted the passage of the Defense of Marriage Act three years later that prohibited the federal government from legally recognizing gay nuptials.

The U.S. Supreme Court in June found a portion of DOMA unconstitutional.

Hawaiian voters in 1998 approved a state constitutional amendment that allowed the Legislature to ban same-sex marriage.

“The state has a responsibility to those voters,” state Rep. Bob McDermott said as he testified against SB1.

Hawaii’s civil unions law took effect in 2012, but a federal judge in August of that year dismissed a lawsuit filed on behalf of two same-sex couples who sought marriage rights in Hawaii. The plaintiffs appealed, and their case is pending in the U.S. Ninth Circuit alongside a second lawsuit that seeks to extend marriage rights to same-sex couples in Nevada.

Hawaii Gov. Neil Abercrombie and 14 state attorneys general last month filed briefs with the court that urge it to rule in favor of nuptials for gays and lesbians in his state and Nevada.

The state Senate on Tuesday is scheduled to consider amendments to SB1 that the House approved.

Abercrombie is expected to sign the measure into law later next week.

“I commend the House of Representatives for taking this historic vote to move justice and equality forward,” the governor said. “After more than 50 hours of public testimony from thousands of testifiers on both sides of the issue, evaluating dozens of amendments and deliberating procedures through hours of floor debates, the House passed this significant bill, which directly creates a balance between marriage equality for same-sex couples and protect our First Amendment freedoms for religious organizations.”

Same-sex couples will be able to legally marry in Hawaii on Dec. 2 once Abercrombie signs SB1 into law.

09
Nov
2013

Obama ‘proud’ of Hawaii for enacting same-sex marriage

President Obama said he's "proud" of his home state of Hawaii for legalizing same-sex marriage (Blade photo by Lee Whitman).

President Obama said he’s “proud” of his home state of Hawaii for legalizing same-sex marriage (Blade photo by Lee Whitman).

President Obama issued a statement shortly after the Hawaii legislature gave final approval to a bill to legalize same-sex marriage on Tuesday, saying he’s “proud” of his birth state for enacting marriage equality.

“Whenever freedom and equality are affirmed, our country becomes stronger,” Obama said. “By giving loving gay and lesbian couples the right to marry if they choose, Hawaii exemplifies the values we hold dear as a nation. I’ve always been proud to have been born in Hawaii, and today’s vote makes me even prouder.”

Gov. Neil Abercrombie is expected to sign on Wednesday the legislation that the State Senate approved earlier on Tuesday by a vote of 19-4. The bill was an amended version of marriage legislation that the State House approved last week.

The wins for marriage equality in recent weeks have been hitting close to home for Obama. Last week, the legislature in Illinois, where Obama served as a state senator and U.S. senator, gave the final approval to marriage equality legislation. Afterward, Obama said he and Michelle Obama were “overjoyed” by the news. This week, the victory came in Hawaii, where Obama was born in 1961.

The full statement follows:

“I want to congratulate the Hawaii State Legislature on passing legislation in support of marriage equality.  With today’s vote, Hawaii joins a growing number of states that recognize that our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters should be treated fairly and equally under the law.  Whenever freedom and equality are affirmed, our country becomes stronger.  By giving loving gay and lesbian couples the right to marry if they choose, Hawaii exemplifies the values we hold dear as a nation.  I’ve always been proud to have been born in Hawaii, and today’s vote makes me even prouder.  And Michelle and I extend our best wishes to all those in Hawaii whose families will now be given the security and respect they deserve. “

12
Nov
2013

Hawaii same-sex marriage bill clears final hurdle

Neil Abercrombie, Hawaii, Democratic Party, gay news, Washington Blade

Gov. Neil Abercrombie (D-Hawaii) (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

A bill that would extend marriage rights to same-sex couples in Hawaii on Tuesday cleared its final hurdle.

The 19-4 vote in the state Senate clears the way for Gov. Neil Abercrombie to sign Senate Bill 1 into law. He is expected to do so on Wednesday.

“Join with me in bending the arc of moral justice by confirming on all Americans equal treatment under the law,” state Sen. Clayton Hee said after he read a letter he received from Edith Windsor, the New York widow who challenged a portion of the Defense of Marriage Act before the U.S. Supreme Court. “Let us confirm that all marriages are equal, regardless if they may be straight or gay.”

State Sen. Suzanne Chun-Oakland discussed her upbringing in a Christian and Buddhist household as she spoke emotionally in support of SB1.

“The bill before us provides an opportunity for the people of our state to nurture a just and more compassionate society,” she said.

The Hawaii Supreme Court in 1993 ruled the denial of marriage rights to same-sex couples is unconstitutional. The ruling prompted the passage of DOMA three years later that prohibited the federal government from legally recognizing gay nuptials.

The U.S. Supreme Court in June found a portion of DOMA unconstitutional.

Hawaii voters in 1998 approved a state constitutional amendment that allowed the Legislature to ban same-sex marriage.

The state’s civil unions law took effect in 2012, but a federal judge in August of that year dismissed a lawsuit filed on behalf of two gay couples who sought marriage rights in Hawaii. The plaintiffs appealed, and their case is pending in the U.S. Ninth Circuit alongside a second lawsuit that seeks to extend marriage rights to same-sex couples in Nevada.

Abercrombie and 14 state attorneys general last month filed briefs with the court that urge it to rule in favor of nuptials for gays and lesbians in his state and Nevada.

The Hawaii House of Representatives on Friday gave its final approval to SB1 after lawmakers debated it for more than 12 hours. The chamber two days earlier passed the measure on its second reading following five days of testimony from its supporters and opponents.

The state Senate on Oct. 30 overwhelmingly approved SB1, but it had to consider amendments the House added to the measure.

“The Legislature has ignored the majority,” state Sen. Mike Gabbard said as he testified against the bill.

Senate Majority Leader Brickwood Galuteria, who introduced SB1, said lawmakers have “heard all the voices” on the issue of marriage rights for same-sex couples in Hawaii as he spoke in support of the measure.

“There must be no delay or no compromise or no hesitation with our purpose,” he said.

Same-sex couples will be able to marry in Hawaii on Dec. 2.

12
Nov
2013

Hawaii lawmakers urged to support marriage

Colleen Hanabusa, Tulsi Gabbard, Mazie Hirono, Brian Schatz, Hawaii, Democratic Party, United States House of Representatives, United States Senate, gay news, Washington Blade

Members of the Hawaii congressional delegation, (from top left clockwise) Rep. Colleen Hanabusa, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, Sen. Brian Schatz and Sen. Mazie Hirono (all are Democrats). (Photos public domain)

HONOLULU—Members of Hawaii’s congressional delegation on Aug. 16 urged state lawmakers to support a bill that would extend marriage rights to same-sex couples.

Congresswomen Colleen Hanabusa and Tulsi Gabbard and U.S. Sens. Mazie Hirono and Brian Schatz each spoke in support of the issue in a press release the group Hawaii United for Marriage released.

“Government officials, judges and bureaucrats should not have the power to declare one relationship ‘morally’ superior to another,” Gabbard said.

Lawmakers did not vote on same-sex marriage bills before they adjourned in June. They could potentially debate the issue during a special legislative session later this year if Gov. Neil Abercrombie, who backs nuptials for gays and lesbians, calls for one.

21
Aug
2013

Cartoon: Jo Jordan

Hawaii, same-sex marriage, gay marriage, marriage equality, Jo Jordan

Lesbian lawmaker, Jo Jordan, is experiencing some backlash after voting against marriage equality in Hawaii. (Washington Blade cartoon by Ranslem)

12
Nov
2013

The Mormon mean streak isn’t a bug, it’s a feature

The Mormons have adopted a new strategy for undercutting gay marriage. It's more subtle, and just as hateful.

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20
Sep
2013

BREAKING: Hawaii passes gay marriage bill, governor to sign in morning

Marriages of same-sex couples should begin in Hawaii on December 2. Hawaii will be the 15th state to legalize.

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13
Nov
2013

Trans activist Melenie Eleneke dies at 52

Melenie Mahinamalamalama Eleneke, transgender rights activist, hula dancer and devoted auntie and sister, died peacefully of natural causes in her sleep the morning of Sept. 9 at her home in Daly City, Calif., according to her friend Ricky Everett. She was 53.

“Auntie Mele” was born Christmas Day 1959 in Honolulu, becoming the youngest of Jarett Kalani Eleneke and Alene Ku’ukama’aloha Parker Eleneke-Pa’s five children, including sisters Char Thompson, Shalei Eleneke and brothers Wayne, Paul and Charles Eleneke.

One year prior to her 1977 graduation from Kailua High School in Honolulu, Eleneke transitioned to become the woman known and loved by a vast network of family, friends and colleagues. She was a lifelong spiritual healer, hula dancer and social justice advocate.

Eleneke was a long-serving community leader with the Transgender, Gender Variant & Intersex Justice Project in San Francisco, most notably for her trip to Geneva in February 2008 where she addressed the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, holding the United States accountable for its lack of economic opportunity for transgender women of color.

In addition to her parents and siblings, Eleneke is survived by Patrice Evans, nephew Tamalani Auva’a, her dogs Jimmy and Kukunaokala, and her devoted sisters, nieces and nephews from the House of Valenciaga.

A memorial service was held last week in California and another is planned in her native Hawaii.

25
Sep
2013

Hawaii same-sex marriage bill signed into law

Neil Abercrombie, Hawaii, Democratic Party, gay news, Washington Blade

Gov. Neil Abercrombie (D-Hawaii) (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Hawaii Gov. Neil Abercrombie on Wednesday signed a bill into law that extends marriage rights to same-sex couples in his state.

“What happened in this Legislature is people… listened to what their role was in terms of upholding the constitution,” he said during the signing ceremony that took place at the Hawaii Convention Center in Honolulu. “It’s not a question of if its a special interest. It’s a question of if it promotes the public interest.”

Hawaii Attorney General David Louie spoke before the governor signed Senate Bill 1 into law.

“Today is a great day in Hawaii nei,” Louie said. “Today we move forward into a new era of aloha for same-sex couples who want to get married.”

Abercrombie signed the measure into law a day after the state Senate approved it by a 19-4 vote margin.

Senate Bill 1 passed in the Hawaii House of Representatives on Nov. 8 after lawmakers debated it for more than 12 hours. The chamber two days earlier approved the measure on its second reading following five days of testimony from SB1 supporters and opponents.

The state Senate on Oct. 30 overwhelmingly approved the bill, but it had to consider amendments the House added to it before Abercrombie signed it.

“Someday this world will accept all of us for who we are,” Senate Judiciary and Labor Committee Chair Clayton Hee said during the signing ceremony. “I could have never imagined that I would play a role in such a profound but in my mind a simple thing to do: bring justice and equality to all of us.”

Hawaii is among the 15 states and D.C. in which same-sex couples can now marry.

Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn on Nov. 20 is scheduled to sign a bill that would extend marriage rights to gays and lesbians in his state.

The Hawaii Supreme Court in 1993 ruled the denial of marriage rights to same-sex couples is unconstitutional. Then-President Clinton three years later signed the Defense of Marriage Act that prohibited the federal government from legally recognizing gay nuptials.

The U.S. Supreme Court in June found a portion of DOMA unconstitutional.

Hawaii voters in 1998 approved a state constitutional amendment that allowed the Legislature to ban same-sex marriage.

The Aloha State’s civil unions law took effect in 2012, but a federal judge in August of that year dismissed a lawsuit filed on behalf of two gay couples who sought marriage rights in Hawaii. Their case is currently pending in the U.S. Ninth Circuit alongside a second lawsuit that seeks to extend marriage rights to same-sex couples in Nevada.

“By giving loving gay and lesbian couples the right to marry if they choose, Hawaii exemplifies the values we hold dear as a nation,” President Obama said in a statement on Tuesday after SB1 received final approval in the state Senate. “I’ve always been proud to have been born in Hawaii, and today’s vote makes me even prouder.”

ACLU-Hawaii Legal Director Lois Perrin, who co-founded Hawaii United for Marriage, which backed SB1, agreed.

“We join President Obama in praising our Legislature and the historic decision they made during this special session,” she said after Abercrombie signed SB1 into law. “We at Hawaii United for Marriage are proud that the majority of our lawmakers stood tall and recognized that marriage equality is simply the right thing to do.”

Gays and lesbians are expected to begin to legally marry in Hawaii on Dec. 2, but SB1 opponents are expected to file a lawsuit on Thursday that would block it from taking effect.

13
Nov
2013