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. JohnM

    Michelle did the right thing. I love that the protester said she was "taken aback". Maybe if more of these hecklers were confronted and held accountable, they'd be more considerate of other people.

    June 5, 2013 01:36 pm at 1:36 pm |
  2. johnsonj3

    People the tilte is Mr. President and First Lady like the rest of the President who served in the White house. Okay people migth not like them but give them the respect y0u would give the White president and his wife. Done.

    June 5, 2013 01:36 pm at 1:36 pm |
  3. Anonymous

    Little wonder that the First Family is meeting hecklers more and more. Obama beguiled us the promise of change, but has turned out two Dubaya on steroids. He is Bush all over again, only worse. It seems that almost every decision Obama has made amounts to a further erosion of our civil liberties, further militarization and development of a police state, or further socialism and policies that all but guarantee economic deterioration.

    June 5, 2013 01:36 pm at 1:36 pm |
  4. Brad

    Kudos to you for coming out of the closet and finding inner peace, however, public figures don't have to kowtow to your demands because of it.

    June 5, 2013 01:41 pm at 1:41 pm |
  5. Taarkus Taarkus

    "Listen to me, or you can take the mic, but I'm leaving...You have one choice." Sounds like two choices.

    June 5, 2013 01:43 pm at 1:43 pm |
  6. goblackhawks

    First of all what do Federal Contracts have to do with Gay Rights. Can't they bid on contracts like everyone else .. If you want Equality .. bid like everyone else .. no more special rights. I love reading these posts .. Don't heckle Marie Antoinette ( Imean Mrs. Obama) You Obamabots .. have to learn this is how America works .. remember Freedom of SPeech .. This woman better watchout for the IRS .. we know what the Obama's do with people who question them ...

    June 5, 2013 01:45 pm at 1:45 pm |
  7. kondorky

    For those thinking democracy got stomped on, take a deep breath, and realize that this was a private function at a private residence. Unless of course you think it is all right for someone with an agenda to just storm into your home during a private function and heckle you, in which case, you are just wonky. :-)

    June 5, 2013 01:45 pm at 1:45 pm |
  8. John Shilo

    Little wonder that the First Family is meeting up with hecklers. Obama beguiled us with the promise of CHANGE but has turned out to be Dubaya on steroids. He is Bush all over again. It seems that every decision Obama has made either further erodes our civil liberties, further implements a police state or the military walking our streets or flying drones overhead, or further socialism and economic decline. He took the oath to defend the Constitution but his policies have undermined it like Bush's policies did.

    June 5, 2013 01:45 pm at 1:45 pm |
  9. Woman In California

    GOOD. It's about time the First Lady made it clear to all the haters out there that YOU can either respect her or YOU can go home. I only hope the president follows her lead.

    June 5, 2013 01:47 pm at 1:47 pm |
  10. Big Johnson

    Ellen Sturtz, that was one of the rudest things you could ever do. Really, did you actually pay the $500 to get in, or did someone hand you the ticket? Enjoy your 15 minutes of fame, Ellen. Per your pictures, you had every intent in switching genders, as you look more masculine than most males. You won't be getting near any more Presidential functions for the rest of your life, as you are now blacklisted. I hope it was worth it. You never had to come out of the closet, as anyone could easily tell you were gay.

    June 5, 2013 01:47 pm at 1:47 pm |
  11. scotty501

    As a professional gay man I am often embarrassed to associate myself with the gay community because of the parades and this kind of low class behavior

    June 5, 2013 01:48 pm at 1:48 pm |
  12. gab

    And then Ellen Sturtz was never heard from again...

    June 5, 2013 01:49 pm at 1:49 pm |
  13. Lord Toronaga

    The people at the private meeting should have grabbed the LGBT psychopath and thrown her out the door. The Obama's shouldn't have to take a back seat to these disgusting pedophiles.

    June 5, 2013 01:51 pm at 1:51 pm |
  14. Jean

    I have never been enamored with Mrs. Obama and she completely lost me with the "this is the first time in my adult life I've ben proud of my country" crack and this just reinforces what I already thought, thin-skinned like the hubby and not much class.

    June 5, 2013 01:53 pm at 1:53 pm |
  15. Hamburger Jones

    Man, the bigots are really suffering today! Yes, she's the First Lady, and yes, every President and First Lady will be treated this way from now on, thanks to you. Remember how everyone said nasty, unforgivable things about Dubya's wife because she murdered her boyfriend in high school? Of course you don't. We gave her a break because she was 17 when she killed Mike Douglas for dumping her.

    June 5, 2013 01:55 pm at 1:55 pm |
  16. marty king

    I have been alive long enough to go back as far as LBJ and I have never, ever witnessed people acting so hostile, undisciplined, and disrespectful as with what I have seen over the Obama years. You people believe you can act and say whatever it is you wish, I guess because the President and the First Lady have more melanin in their skin than previous Presidents. It's despicable and disgusting; in fact, it is downright embarrassing. Americans show their hind end, with no class at all, as they mistreat the First Lady and say reprehensible things about our President.
    If this were another Country, you racists would be thrown in jail. Michelle Obama has been nothing less than gracious and she has served the position of First Lady in a dignified fashion.

    June 5, 2013 01:55 pm at 1:55 pm |
  17. Rudy NYC

    Taarkus Taarkus

    "Listen to me, or you can take the mic, but I'm leaving...You have one choice." Sounds like two choices.
    ---------------------
    Good grief. Yes, there were in fact two choices. One choice was good, while the other choice was OBVIOUSLY bad. In other words, you have just one choice.

    June 5, 2013 01:57 pm at 1:57 pm |
  18. may40

    Wow, I can't get over all you liberals backing Michelle...don't you know that the heckler was one of you? I thought you all stood for LGBT? I can only imagine if this had been a Republican first lady, you hypocrites would be all over that shouting obscenities at the first lady b/c she's conservative. You all make me sick!!!!

    June 5, 2013 01:57 pm at 1:57 pm |
  19. Michel

    Sturtz referred to protecting 22% of the population. What 22%!?

    June 5, 2013 01:58 pm at 1:58 pm |
  20. Jean

    I think it is as appropriate for this person to make her statement at a private fundrasier for democrats as it was for Carter's grandson to go to a private republican fundraiser and secretly tape it without any permission to do so and without anyone in the room being aware they were being taped. Disrepsect, please the guy that taped Romney at a private event was much worse than what this woman did and I bet all you liberals think what Carter's grandson did was perfectly fine and acceptable. My problem with most liberal dems is their pure and unadulterated hypocrisy.

    June 5, 2013 02:00 pm at 2:00 pm |
  21. Rudy NYC

    Jean

    I have never been enamored with Mrs. Obama and she completely lost me with the "this is the first time in my adult life I've ben proud of my country" crack and this just reinforces what I already thought, thin-skinned like the hubby and not much class.
    ------------–
    She completely lost you there. Right there? I suggest that you read the book "Black Like Me" by John Howard Griffen. It's a work of non-fiction from the early 1960s.

    June 5, 2013 02:01 pm at 2:01 pm |
  22. Birchwood

    If only Michelle Obama had been Secretary of State instead of Hillary, the world would probably be much better now!

    June 5, 2013 02:01 pm at 2:01 pm |
  23. may40

    Jennifer in Houston said....
    j
    Good for Michele.. stands up to them rather than the Bush policy of banning them before hand..

    Dear Jennifer,
    Where the heck do you get your information? Your president is the one who will NOT put up with anyone who disagrees with him. Honestly, where do you liberals gets your news? Oh yeah, CNN, MSNBC and MSM. Just the facts please!!!! And this is why our country will continue to fall apart b/c of people like you who can't handle the truth.

    June 5, 2013 02:02 pm at 2:02 pm |
  24. Hamburger Jones

    "First of all what do Federal Contracts have to do with Gay Rights. Can't they bid on contracts like everyone else"

    I am trying not to giggle at the idea of the Feds having to bid on Gay Rights Contracts. Do you imagine them going for the low bidder, who only offers civil-ceremony gay weddings, or taking the mid-range bid, which also allows drag queens to run for mayor? Where does Glenn Beck get these ideas he gives you? It's hilarious.

    June 5, 2013 02:03 pm at 2:03 pm |
  25. vishmael

    MICHELLE 4 PRESIDENT 2016

    June 5, 2013 02:04 pm at 2:04 pm |
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