June 4th, 2013
09:42 PM ET
11 months 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. Jeff in NC

    Just goes to show that the Obama's will advocate for LGBT issues only to the point at which it assists in winning an election. But they will go no further. They're all talk.

    June 5, 2013 07:41 am at 7:41 am |
  2. Tigas

    Oh well, there goes GetEQUAL's tax-exemption status. Wonder what Holder is going to find in Ellen Sturtz;s e-mails...

    June 5, 2013 07:41 am at 7:41 am |
  3. AreYouKidding?

    I still don't understand how people who display the mental and emotional maturity level of the average fourth-grader expect to be taken seriously by anyone. Both major parties are bursting at the seams with fools like these. It's kinda getting a little scary at this point.

    June 5, 2013 07:41 am at 7:41 am |
  4. peach

    Ha Ha hA , Miss OBAMA cant take the heat, whimp

    June 5, 2013 07:44 am at 7:44 am |
  5. randy

    if she cant stand the heat, than she need not speak in public

    June 5, 2013 07:44 am at 7:44 am |
  6. LTHAJ

    Can't profess what Answers you follow ,be a proud W person or smoke in public? It seems we need a bigger CLOSET, one large enough for all preferences! Please keep your sheep's clothing on while in the public eye, SHEEPLE!

    June 5, 2013 07:44 am at 7:44 am |
  7. rickenpacker89

    Good for Mrs. Obama! She is not there to argue policies. I believe in the first amendment but Mrs. Obama has that right too. There are many ways to make your feelings known to the president. Call your congressman.

    June 5, 2013 07:46 am at 7:46 am |
  8. Brett

    Someone cant take the pressure of being first lady or be able to take critizism.

    June 5, 2013 07:46 am at 7:46 am |
  9. The law

    More of this would be nice. Go Ellen...

    June 5, 2013 07:47 am at 7:47 am |
  10. Paul Cooper

    So the community organizer's wife doesn't like community organizer tactics?

    June 5, 2013 07:48 am at 7:48 am |
  11. Polly

    I'm no fan of Mrs. Obama, but she handled this situation well. Sturtz is an inconsiderate idiot. People like her do more harm for their cause than they do good and are an embarrassment to the people they claim to represent.

    June 5, 2013 07:48 am at 7:48 am |
  12. Ellen

    Good move Mrs. Obama...always a class act!

    June 5, 2013 07:49 am at 7:49 am |
  13. spanky2

    democrats love to dish it out.....like a pack of dogs......but they don't like it when they're the ones being called out.

    June 5, 2013 07:51 am at 7:51 am |
  14. Animal

    That mean protester. She got in the way of MO speech. That's pretty immature on MO's part to say "if you don't want to listen to me I'm going to leave".

    June 5, 2013 07:56 am at 7:56 am |
  15. Roy

    I cannot wait for 2024 when Michelle is POTUS. She will not put up with BS!

    June 5, 2013 07:58 am at 7:58 am |
  16. JOHN S

    Good for Michele! Freedom of Speech is guaranteed. Unfortunately, many don't recognize that so is the Freedom to Walk Away.

    June 5, 2013 08:00 am at 8:00 am |
  17. micol

    What CNN fails to mention, as usual, is that there was no mention of the exchange in the official transcript of the evenings speech...WHAT??? Most transparent in history?? Yea Right. Keep up the great work CNN, riveting and cutting edge, as usual...

    June 5, 2013 08:02 am at 8:02 am |
  18. PeterD

    How many more fundraisers Obamas need anymore? We need more Jobs and not more Fundraisers.

    June 5, 2013 08:02 am at 8:02 am |
  19. ru kidden me

    You go girl! Two thumbs up for the First Lady!

    June 5, 2013 08:03 am at 8:03 am |
  20. Tutuvabene

    Suddenly Michelle is not so cool anymore.

    June 5, 2013 08:07 am at 8:07 am |
  21. Wake up People!

    Sure, sure we've seen this type of disrespect directed at all First Lady's.....

    Oh wait a minute......

    June 5, 2013 08:08 am at 8:08 am |
  22. pmmarion

    Good for her!

    June 5, 2013 08:08 am at 8:08 am |
  23. Joe

    Obama should have walked up to her, handed her the mic, wished everyone a pleasant day, and left. The heckler wouldn't have made it to the door in one piece.

    June 5, 2013 08:13 am at 8:13 am |
  24. Pyramid2000

    Too bad for Obama but that is what democtracy and free speech is all about...suck it up Michelle!

    June 5, 2013 08:13 am at 8:13 am |
  25. The Tony Alexiou Show

    Challenge me will ya? I'm packing up my toys and going!

    June 5, 2013 08:14 am at 8:14 am |
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