June 4th, 2013
09:42 PM ET
2 years 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.

https://twitter.com/codepink/status/342128548179484672

https://twitter.com/bookgirl8/status/342295630858842112


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

    I'll give her a thumbs up on this one; someone ever did that to me I would call them out too; I want people to have their views and opinions – even if they disagree with me, but a certain degree of respect and courtesy is expected.

    June 5, 2013 12:11 pm at 12:11 pm |
  2. DirtyHeat

    Interesting that liberals, who protest everything and heckle anybody that they disagree with, cant handle a taste of their own medicine.

    June 5, 2013 12:12 pm at 12:12 pm |
  3. evan

    Really, CNN? If you want to become home of far right extremism, would take very little effort from where you are at today.

    Sad, because CNN used to be a real news source with real journalists, but now it's nothing more than a dog & pony show for far right nut jobs.

    June 5, 2013 12:14 pm at 12:14 pm |
  4. chris

    which president as fight for the gays right like the obamas.when Bush was in power where was that woman.

    June 5, 2013 12:15 pm at 12:15 pm |
  5. nuclear mike

    Gee...the 1st Lady needs to come to a few movies with us to heckle her own sisters who talk thru ever movie out loud...her Royal Highness needs to come down amongst all of us commoners and accept other people disagreeing out loud with us all the time about the IRS...IMPEACHMENT will teach her a good lesson on real power!

    June 5, 2013 12:16 pm at 12:16 pm |
  6. Bob23

    I wish the heck she would leave the white house. 2012 was a missed opportunity

    June 5, 2013 12:16 pm at 12:16 pm |
  7. Harley Quinn

    I may share the same viewpoint as the heckler, but what they did is entirely disrespectful. No one attacked Laura Bush for the things her husband did or did not do. What this person did to Mrs. Obama was out of line and more of a detriment to her cause than anything.

    June 5, 2013 12:17 pm at 12:17 pm |
  8. John

    She and her husband are ABOVE being asked ANY questions. Three years and their gone anyway.

    June 5, 2013 12:18 pm at 12:18 pm |
  9. Gregory L. Faith

    The first amendment at work. Just at the expense of donors who dropped up to $10k to see The First Lady.

    June 5, 2013 12:18 pm at 12:18 pm |
  10. Give Barry A Cigarette

    Can't wait until she is no longer the FLOTUS

    June 5, 2013 12:18 pm at 12:18 pm |
  11. Name Uche Agonsi

    why are the Obamas bitterly disrespected. Even in a Congressional address, Obama's decency in language crafts & oratory,was rewarded with heckled shrill 'liar'. If such acts are within democratic norms, the question is whether the Obamas deserve them.

    June 5, 2013 12:19 pm at 12:19 pm |
  12. DirtyHeat

    @Lynda/Minnesota

    To be honest, I've never seen such petty childishness directed at a First Lady of the United States as that which comes from the political right wing of American society.

    Makes one wonder where these folks come from mentally – how they were raised by their own parents, and how they are (or will) be raising their own children.
    _________________________________________________________________________________________________

    Well its clear you didn't even read the story. Considering that the heckler was a gay rights supporter I highly doubt that this was a member of the "political right wing".

    June 5, 2013 12:20 pm at 12:20 pm |
  13. Jim

    Can't she go anywhere without asking for money? What is the IRS status of this lib group?

    June 5, 2013 12:22 pm at 12:22 pm |
  14. Moonraker

    "Gotta give respect to get it, sorry she said she was ashamed to be American I am ashamed she is the First Lady. You should be ashamed of what happens but always proud of our Republic( thats right not a democracy but a damned Republic)" Typical republican, taking a comment out of context in order to make it into something it wasn't. The First Lady has more class and elegance than any first lady in a long time.

    June 5, 2013 12:23 pm at 12:23 pm |
  15. Stoph

    "One of the things I don't do well is this".

    Am I the only who sees a lot of inherent arrogance in that statement?

    June 5, 2013 12:23 pm at 12:23 pm |
  16. Dean

    Gee, it is ok to heckle conservatives but not liberals???????

    June 5, 2013 12:24 pm at 12:24 pm |
  17. globeflyer

    Would not be surprised if someone told me it was staged. Give all the IRS, Benghazi, and AP-wire tapping stuff, nothing is out of the question with this White House. Did I mention Fast & Furious?

    June 5, 2013 12:26 pm at 12:26 pm |
  18. Dean

    evan

    Really, CNN? If you want to become home of far right extremism, would take very little effort from where you are at today.

    Sad, because CNN used to be a real news source with real journalists, but now it's nothing more than a dog & pony show for far right nut jobs.

    Do you really think a far right person would be protesting, heckling for gay rights?

    June 5, 2013 12:26 pm at 12:26 pm |
  19. Anonymous

    OOH- I know someone who is going to get audited next year for sure!!

    June 5, 2013 12:28 pm at 12:28 pm |
  20. Laurie in Spokane

    Good for her! That heckler woman obviously thought what she had to say much more important than what Michelle Obama was saying. Maybe what she had to say was important, maybe not, but certainly doesn't warrant her rudeness.

    June 5, 2013 12:28 pm at 12:28 pm |
  21. Aj Ajibola

    Freedom of speech??? It should have been wisdom of speech

    June 5, 2013 12:30 pm at 12:30 pm |
  22. foxlite

    evan

    Really, CNN? If you want to become home of far right extremism, would take very little effort from where you are at today.

    Sad, because CNN used to be a real news source with real journalists, but now it's nothing more than a dog & pony show for far right nut jobs.

    --

    You've noticed that too? Ever since Fox shut off their comments, it's been like moths drawn to a light bulb. It used to be possible to have an intelligent debate/discussion here. No more. I'm sure CNN is making tons of money from the web traffic, and to he ll with journalism, the bottom line is what it is all about.

    June 5, 2013 12:32 pm at 12:32 pm |
  23. coyoteliberty

    The far left turns on Obama slowly yet discernibly...Nice!

    June 5, 2013 12:33 pm at 12:33 pm |
  24. Hillcrester

    Well done, Ms. Obama.

    June 5, 2013 12:34 pm at 12:34 pm |
  25. Liberals turning on liberals

    Hopefully the hubs gets impeached and both are gone.

    June 5, 2013 12:34 pm at 12:34 pm |
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