June 4th, 2013
09:42 PM ET
1 year ago

First lady clashes with protester; threatens to leave event

(CNN) – First lady Michelle Obama had a rare run-in with an audience heckler Tuesday during a fund-raising event in Washington for the Democratic National Committee.

The outburst from the crowd distracted Obama at a point in her speech when she was speaking emotionally about children and their futures, prompting her to threaten to leave if the woman wanted to keep speaking.

"One of the things I don't do well is this," she said, according to a pool reporter who attended the event. Television cameras were not allowed inside.

Obama walked toward the protester, saying she could "listen to me or you can take the mic, but I'm leaving. You all decide. You have one choice," according to the pool report.

The protester was identified as Ellen Sturtz of the gay rights group GetEQUAL. She was calling on President Barack Obama to sign an executive order barring discrimination based on sexual orientation by federal contractors.

Sturtz was escorted out of the event, held at a private residence in northwest Washington. Tickets for the fund-raiser ranged from $500 to $10,000.

The White House, as it does with many events, released a transcript of her remarks Tuesday night. While the transcript includes the beginning of the first lady's response to the protester–"One of the things that I don't do well is this. Do you understand?"–the transcript does not quote the exchange between the two, which happened away from the microphone.

Early Wednesday morning, Sturtz said in a statement released by GetEQUAL that she had "lived and worked in the closet, hiding who I was in order to earn a living."

"I had planned to speak tonight with DNC officials but, as the First Lady was talking about our childrens' future and ensuring that they have everything they need to live happy and productive lives, I simply couldn't stay silent any longer," Sturtz added. "I'm looking ahead at a generation of young people who could live full, honest, and open lives with the stroke of the President's pen, and I was hoping that the First Lady would share my concern for all of our young people."

The interruption came less than two weeks after President Obama faced a Code Pink protester who loudly advocated for the closure of the Guantanamo Bay prison during the president's national security speech.

The president, who was making his remarks before cameras and a large audience, handled the situation differently than his wife's confrontation Tuesday night.

"This is part of free speech, is you being able to speak but also you listening and me being able to speak, alright?" Obama said upon the interruption. The president has used the tactic before when interrupted.

The woman, peace activist Medea Benjamin, kept up her protest, which also included a rebuke against American drone strikes that have killed civilians. Obama eventually diverted from his prepared remarks to address the situation head-on.

"The voice of that woman is worth paying attention to," he said. "Obviously I do not agree with much of what she said and obviously she wasn't listening to me in much of what I said. But these are tough issues and the suggestion that we can gloss over them is wrong."

READ MORE: Obama heckler: 'Don't call it heckling'

As with most controversial moments, the first lady's exchange with the protester was met with mixed reviews on Twitter, but many embraced her approach.


Filed under: Gay rights • Michelle Obama
soundoff (1,039 Responses)
  1. scott

    Oh no you di int

    June 5, 2013 06:50 am at 6:50 am |
  2. Georgia Girl

    Good for you FLOTUS!

    June 5, 2013 06:52 am at 6:52 am |
  3. miguel

    I'd love to see Michelle Obama going on a rant. that would be worthy of reality TV. I bet she has Barack henpecked pretty badly

    June 5, 2013 06:52 am at 6:52 am |
  4. Bob R., Maryland

    Sturtz and her kind are exactly the kind of people why my wife and I are very strongly against gay 'rights.' Her kind will also never force us to accept gays' so-called marriages no matter how beligerent they are.

    June 5, 2013 06:56 am at 6:56 am |
  5. jnpa

    Correcting my previous post. I meant to say – If she had left I would not blame her one bit, but of course all the repubs will have a field day calling her names.

    June 5, 2013 06:57 am at 6:57 am |
  6. pam sheppard

    Good for Michelle. She only sleeps with the president. She's not THE president.

    June 5, 2013 06:57 am at 6:57 am |
  7. Deist

    GetEQUAL, perhaps should change it's name to BecomeEQUAL, because arrogant and rude behavior gets attention but dignified discussion and reasonable behavior earns the RESPECT which awards you EQUALITY. Behaving like a spoiled five year old while addressing the most admired woman in the country, as temporarily cathartic as it may be, only diminishes your position.

    June 5, 2013 06:57 am at 6:57 am |
  8. Bill

    Shame on you. After all the Obama’s have done for us you act disrespectful to the First Lady!? That’s shameful. I agree with what you want the president to do, but I disagree in the way you went about asking for the help. It makes our movement look like something a Tea Bagger Party member would do.

    June 5, 2013 07:00 am at 7:00 am |
  9. Ed

    Wow Michelle, a little thin skinned are we?? You must get that from your hubby.

    June 5, 2013 07:00 am at 7:00 am |
  10. boarddog

    "...of the gay rights group GetEQUAL" I guess she won't get voted as "cutest" after this incident.

    June 5, 2013 07:00 am at 7:00 am |
  11. reddog

    Good for Mrs. Obama. People like Ellen Sturtz need to realize that their rude and obnoxious behavior does nothing to advance their cause. All their disrespectful behavior does is turn people off.

    June 5, 2013 07:02 am at 7:02 am |
  12. smccuen

    saying she could "listen to me or you can take the mic, but I'm leaving. ".......so you can listen to the First Lady or you can talk to her back because, according to the FL, only one of them had something important to say

    June 5, 2013 07:02 am at 7:02 am |
  13. Warren

    Doing things like this hurts our cause. GetEQUAL sounds like a Tea Party group...

    June 5, 2013 07:02 am at 7:02 am |
  14. Hfxwst

    Good for Mrs. Obama – no one will ever call her a coward.

    Clearly a lesbian looking for attention, not at all indicative of the class we usually see from the Gay Lobby. . Ms. Sturtz picked the wrong place, the wrong time and the wrong Speaker to try to embarrass. There should be a formal apology by the GetEqual bunch.

    June 5, 2013 07:03 am at 7:03 am |
  15. smccuen

    "saying she could 'listen to me or you can take the mic, but I'm leaving.'" So you can listen to the FL or you can speak to her backside, because, according to the FL, only one of you has something important to say.

    June 5, 2013 07:04 am at 7:04 am |
  16. billNY

    It's big news when it happens to her, not the GOP.

    June 5, 2013 07:05 am at 7:05 am |
  17. John

    "Held" at a private residence? WTF?

    June 5, 2013 07:05 am at 7:05 am |
  18. Doug

    Good for Mrs. Obama, I'm gay but this is not the way to get you point across.. Shame on this women !

    June 5, 2013 07:06 am at 7:06 am |
  19. mark

    She did the right thing , then the heckler was wrong . It sounds like that was her agenda to start with she might just be a heckler pro

    June 5, 2013 07:08 am at 7:08 am |
  20. damn John

    michelle is not Barack when it comes to handling hecklers.

    June 5, 2013 07:08 am at 7:08 am |
  21. AmericansForSensibleGovernment

    I love this person! Michelle, you're awesome! Can you imagine Laura Bush doing this? No, neither can I.

    June 5, 2013 07:12 am at 7:12 am |
  22. danielwalldammit

    She needs to handle it better than that. Seriously, I hope she gets better at handling hecklers.

    June 5, 2013 07:12 am at 7:12 am |
  23. Aimleft

    I guess there's no end to the harrassment and rabid hatred perpetuated on the Obama family. It boggles my mind. Wish Mrs. Obama had handled this a little better, but in a way, I don't blame her. Enough is enough. Some sort of civility needs to return to our national discourse – it's unbelievable that it has gotten this bad. I usually see this as almost wholly the fault of foaming-at-the-mouth rightwingers, but obviously the irrational, uncalled-for animosity and complete loss of any decorum and just plain manners is not limited to any one group of people. I am ashamed to be an American.

    June 5, 2013 07:13 am at 7:13 am |
  24. Peter

    "The protester was identified as Ellen Sturtz of the gay rights group GetEQUAL. She was calling on President Barack Obama to sign an executive order barring discrimination based on sexual orientation by federal contractors. "

    Protesting Obama's lack of gay rights commitment? Really?

    June 5, 2013 07:14 am at 7:14 am |
  25. steven

    good for you mrs. obama....you do not have to put up with that sort of thing ....

    June 5, 2013 07:14 am at 7:14 am |
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