April 9, 2014 at 1:00 pm EDT | by Lou Chibbaro Jr.
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 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.

Lou Chibbaro Jr. has reported on the LGBT civil rights movement and the LGBT community for more than 30 years, beginning as a freelance writer and later as a staff reporter and currently as Senior News Reporter for the Washington Blade. He has chronicled LGBT-related developments as they have touched on a wide range of social, religious, and governmental institutions, including the White House, Congress, the U.S. Supreme Court, the military, local and national law enforcement agencies and the Catholic Church. Chibbaro has reported on LGBT issues and LGBT participation in local and national elections since 1976. He has covered the AIDS epidemic since it first surfaced in the early 1980s. Follow Lou

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