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. Hugh_Mann

    agenda supercedes civility

    June 5, 2013 08:15 am at 8:15 am |
  2. chicadow

    An effective way to get things done- heckle the first lady about things you want the president to do. I'm sure she'll bring the issue up at dinner with "maybe you should do something honey". Morons. If i were president your issue would go to the bottom of the to do list.

    June 5, 2013 08:17 am at 8:17 am |
  3. Jason Voci

    Good for M. Obama, Im a Republican, but love how the Obama's dont take any crap. Time and place for everything Gayrights lady

    June 5, 2013 08:17 am at 8:17 am |
  4. Thinkergal

    Such rudeness on the part of the protester is unthinkable and unacceptable.

    June 5, 2013 08:19 am at 8:19 am |
  5. nickysmiles

    Come ON people. If someone is attending an event with Michelle Obama speaking chances are they are interested in policy and politics and very passionate about what they want to see changed. Every person in that room probably had something they'd like to say to Michelle Obama. BUT NOT EVERYONE HOLLERS OUT like a spoiled 2 year old having a temper tantrum to get Michelle Obama's attention. When people heckle they only hurt their cause and look like spoiled babies.

    Get some class people.

    June 5, 2013 08:19 am at 8:19 am |
  6. Bob

    It's fun watching liberals fight over who is the liberal.

    June 5, 2013 08:21 am at 8:21 am |
  7. Uncle Mike

    Looks like prezbo and wife are coming apart at the seams...they are making Nixon look like a rock star!

    June 5, 2013 08:23 am at 8:23 am |
  8. pitt04

    Love her or hate her; Michelle Obama equals PURE CLASS. Period.

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

    I get it at political rallies, etc. considering the state of basic manners today, but a private fundraiser in a private home is over the line, although I'll bet in 6 years this will be standard as well. I don't like Michelle or her husband. I think she's anti-American and he has no clue what he's doing, but basic manners and respect should always be in effect. From the description Michelle handled the situation as graciously as possible.

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

    oops

    I mean good for her , Michelle I mean

    June 5, 2013 08:25 am at 8:25 am |
  11. nickysmiles

    Come ON people, GROW UP. I'm sure every person in that room would have liked an opportunity to say something to Michelle Obama. Chances are anyone attending an event with Michelle Obama speaking is educated and involved in policy and politics and very passionate about whatever causes they are championing. What makes your cause more important than everyone else's?

    People who do this only harm their cause and make themselves look like two year olds in a tantrum. " I WANT MY WAY! WAHHHHH!" I hope Michelle Obama tells her husband to put this classless lady's cause back down on the bottom of the pile. Don't reward this spoiled, classless behavior MIchelle or you'll be heckled at every event.

    June 5, 2013 08:25 am at 8:25 am |
  12. Aaron

    You go girl, Mrs Obama!!!! if you're gay learn manners FIRST!!!!

    June 5, 2013 08:26 am at 8:26 am |
  13. Does it really matter?

    Oooh, wittle Miss First Lady got her feathers ruffled. I guess we can expect an executive order banning hecklers soon.

    June 5, 2013 08:26 am at 8:26 am |
  14. Valerie

    It takes a truly classless person to go up against our first lady no matter WHO it is or which party her husband is. EVERYONE knows that. Seriously classless.

    June 5, 2013 08:27 am at 8:27 am |
  15. Nobody

    While not a fan of the Obamas, I think she handled it perfectly. More speakers should have a no tolerance attitude towards hecklers/etc.

    June 5, 2013 08:28 am at 8:28 am |
  16. D.

    LOVE IT!!!

    June 5, 2013 08:28 am at 8:28 am |
  17. krj9

    Come on now. Wheres all the right wing hate. It won't be long now

    June 5, 2013 08:29 am at 8:29 am |
  18. Samantha Bisogno

    Don't get me wrong, I am all for activism and speaking out, and as a long-time employee of non-profits and campaigns I've done my fair share, but this kind of stuff just makes embarrassed. Harassment should never be a tool, especially if your target has no direct control over your issue. Good for Ms. Obama for standing up for herself and calling them out!

    June 5, 2013 08:29 am at 8:29 am |
  19. Andrew

    Good point. Bad way to make it.

    June 5, 2013 08:29 am at 8:29 am |
  20. tammy

    Good job. Hate when people are disrespectful to the person speaking, regardless of who is speaking. It's rude. Thought we all learned this in preschool...

    And if you're upset with the prez, protest at his event. Makes mmore sense to me.

    June 5, 2013 08:29 am at 8:29 am |
  21. JD

    When you act like a fool your voice is not heard by anyone!

    June 5, 2013 08:29 am at 8:29 am |
  22. smith

    More liberals hating on the Obamas..this is a clear sign of an impolsion for the democractic party

    June 5, 2013 08:30 am at 8:30 am |
  23. Lisa

    When people pay for these events, I feel when you have someone like this person that interupts an event like this they should be fined. People paid alot of money to hear the first lady. Right On first lady.

    June 5, 2013 08:30 am at 8:30 am |
  24. bill davis

    Obamas seem to bring out the fruits of the world

    June 5, 2013 08:31 am at 8:31 am |
  25. getoulski

    What does your PERSONAL life have to do with your PROFESSIONAL life???? Get over yourself, you are as bad as the perfume wearing motormouth going on and on and on about how great their children are.

    June 5, 2013 08:34 am at 8:34 am |
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