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. Hamburger Jones

    "Can you imagine the headlines if Laura Bush had behaved like that in the face of a protestor?" Laura Bush, who killed her high school boyfriend, spent most of her drunk husband's eight years hiding in the White House. Choose a better example.

    June 5, 2013 03:02 pm at 3:02 pm |
  2. UDidntBuildThat

    Wake up People!-"While I agree with you to a certain extent, if you don't think the hatred toward the Obama's has nothing to do with the melanin in their skin, you might need to check out a Tea Party rally. Also ask yourself how many other Presidents have had their birth questioned, their college transcripts questioned, have had their pictures photoshopped to portray them as animals? I could go on but why?"
    ________________________________________
    u are kidding right? Have u forgotten the vitriole that was spewed by people like u and the media at GWB? No other president had their college transcript questioned because OBAMA is the ONLY president in history to have kept his college transcript sealed to this day!!! As for the questioning of his birthcertificate, every other president released the long form not the short. Obama was the 1st president to produce the short for in the beginning. So that was legitimate up until Obama finally produced the long version. I could go on but why? U liberals pick and choose pieces of info to spin your lies.

    June 5, 2013 03:03 pm at 3:03 pm |
  3. Sivick

    what a first lady! she don't pull punches! rude hecklers. and wasn't the heckler shooting herself in the foot? the obamas have done more for gay equality than any other presidential couple. If she wanted to heckle someone about poor records on gay rights she should have tried a GOP fundraiser.

    June 5, 2013 03:03 pm at 3:03 pm |
  4. DavM

    Typical Obama ,confused ,does not know what to say -- runs and hides.

    June 5, 2013 03:05 pm at 3:05 pm |
  5. PacoParsifal

    Ms. Sturtz was rude, and this was more than just an impolite interruption at a a private event. There are plenty of public forums for Ms. Sturtz to be heard. Additionally, GetEQUAL's support of this behavior is a strategic error that only helps to marginalize the group, and the people they purport to represent.

    June 5, 2013 03:08 pm at 3:08 pm |
  6. Scott

    Still waiting for Dear Leader's apologists to start whining "racist"! Oops, won't happen this time because the heckler was one of their own kind. Appears that the Libocrites are very selective when playing the race-card.

    Scott

    June 5, 2013 03:09 pm at 3:09 pm |
  7. UDidntBuildThat

    LZ says: But the incident sent a message to those who are responsible: We are people, not pawns.
    ________________________
    I guess the "we" only apply to democrats/liberals. The rest of u, watch out IRS is coming for u compliments of the Adminstration.

    June 5, 2013 03:10 pm at 3:10 pm |
  8. Anonymous

    While I think her response could hae been a little more poised, I think it's probably terribly off putting to be interupted in the middle of a speach you've prepared. It was not the time or the place for a question, if the heckler had waited until after the speech was over to approach the First Lady I'm sure the response would have been a lot more favorable.I think everyone who's making this into a matter of political party is way off base. No matter who's talking , no matter what the political affiliation, you should be respectful and allow them to speak if it's their turn.

    June 5, 2013 03:11 pm at 3:11 pm |
  9. shawn v

    Why does everyone seem to be so hostile to everyone else comments? Nobody really cares what anyone else thinks nor do they realky care what is happening. Most comments on here and just singling out specific polital parties as if they are represented by one or another person. What about the human party. Where is the real humanity who rose up againts brittain and gave us our freedom? I suppose everyone would call them "hecklers" also. You can call it rude if you want or you can disagree with what they say but, you can not say that they do not have the right. Every person i this country should have the oppourtunity to voice how they feel. That is what free speech is. These leaders are hiding behind speeches and private events that you can go to only if you have money. These leaders need to be criticized and even if they are not the ideal person that most would like to see speak their mind, at least they have the courage to speak up for what they believe in and challege the leaders like we are all suppose to do. They are there to serve and protect us, not be idolized, praised and worshipped by us. I would say that a leader should get respect only when they have earned it.

    June 5, 2013 03:12 pm at 3:12 pm |
  10. John M

    "These people do not know how to be the first family of the US. Can you imagine the headlines if Laura Bush had behaved like that in the face of a protestor?"
    "Figures, her majesty would have her detained. That's part of the new rule i'm sure, free speech, unless your in the presence of Obezie and his tyrant minions. Then your speech is only as free as they say it is."
    -------------------------------------------
    I guess even normal, understandable human emotions somehow prove the depravity of the president and his family.

    June 5, 2013 03:12 pm at 3:12 pm |
  11. web

    manners. taking turns does not make speech any less free, and its polite.

    June 5, 2013 03:16 pm at 3:16 pm |
  12. Stan

    Just like her husband, if things don't go as scripted, or tleprompted, or if anyone critisizes anything, she throws a hissy fit, threatens to take her ball and go home. Boo Hoo Hoo. I wonder if the kids are spoiled ego-maniacs as well??

    June 5, 2013 03:17 pm at 3:17 pm |
  13. Helen Troy

    why do lgbt folks have to resort to violent protest to make a point...

    June 5, 2013 03:19 pm at 3:19 pm |
  14. Malory Archer

    dax

    These people do not know how to be the first family of the US. Can you imagine the headlines if Laura Bush had behaved like that in the face of a protestor?

    +++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

    One would have to imagine because the Dems had more respect and never did such a thing. However, no need to imagine how the previous administration would have handled it as protesters who had the unmitigated gall to heckle the previous occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue were beaten, handcuffed and dragged off to be arrested while the handpicked crowd of sycophants drowned out their protests with shouts of USA! USA! USA!

    June 5, 2013 03:20 pm at 3:20 pm |
  15. Brian

    Considering it's a private fundraising event, I think the actions are perfectly acceptable. Freedom of speech exists, but it has a place. You can go off spouting what you want in a public area (provided it doesn't threaten the safety of the public). But there isn't a 100% translation into a private event.

    June 5, 2013 03:21 pm at 3:21 pm |
  16. fullsailale

    ok, so cnn and thier so called moderation period is there way of controlling our so called freedom of speech. my last comment was not all that bad. it was against obama and they didnt like it so they cancelled it out. two faced bigots cnn is. you sure bet cnn would get there way to say what they want. i hope cnn burns in hell.

    June 5, 2013 03:21 pm at 3:21 pm |
  17. Hamburger Jones

    "have had their pictures photoshopped to portray them as animals? " Be fair now; the amazing resemblance between George W. Bush and Curious George the Chimp was a source of endless amazement to the children of America. But I agree about the teabaggers; we had one of those rallies and it was all about "get the blacks out of government."

    June 5, 2013 03:21 pm at 3:21 pm |
  18. brian

    Ever since Nixon the Republican Party has hired professional "hecklers" and agitator/provocateurs to harass their opponents. Nixon had an army of "dirty tricks" people but he outsmarted himself in the end. Oh, pardon me.

    June 5, 2013 03:22 pm at 3:22 pm |
  19. Thomas

    Nothing shows class like crawling in to the gutter with an idiot. Did anyone really expect something different? A complete and utter disgrace to the First Ladies that have come before her.

    June 5, 2013 03:27 pm at 3:27 pm |
  20. jaana

    don't question the dictatorship.. or the newss (the IRS) will be after you after you ars scolded for not standing quietly in line to be handed your opinion while they bend you over and take everything you have...

    June 5, 2013 03:28 pm at 3:28 pm |
  21. Florida Joe

    Scott

    The contiuing demostration of Obama, Michelle and Biden not being able to handle themselves when they go off prepareded PR scripts. Bush had a throw thrown
    ***********************************************************************************************************************************************
    Yup typical Bush supporter. By the way what color was the throw he had thrown at him? Yup

    June 5, 2013 03:28 pm at 3:28 pm |
  22. Hamburger Jones

    "U liberals pick and choose pieces of info to spin your lies" and he signs it with the most famous pick-and-choose ever, "you didn't build that." Ironic, doncha think?

    June 5, 2013 03:29 pm at 3:29 pm |
  23. Narchais

    So when Michelle Obama begins speaking of futures and someone wants to know about their, they're a heckler? If MO can't handle a single individual not agreeing with her, then perhaps she has no business speaking in public. While I agree that hecklers can be annoying, they're part of the territory. Her husband handled it much better than she did. Holding the entire audience hostage like that is hardly professional.

    June 5, 2013 03:30 pm at 3:30 pm |
  24. sly

    Michelle – you are the most powerful and widest respected woman on Earth.

    And you are great looking!

    Hilarious to read the racists and other jealous folks blogging here. Got all their panties in a bun over this story!

    Ho ho ho ho ho!

    June 5, 2013 03:32 pm at 3:32 pm |
  25. josh

    That is most of the problem with this country. People think issues can be solved "with the stroke of a pen" without thought to what is actually being signed or how it will be implemented.

    June 5, 2013 03:34 pm at 3:34 pm |
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