June 4th, 2013
09:42 PM ET
9 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.



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

    Hope they gave her money back! Miss Obama isn't worth that much to hear anyway. She like her husband is only good for makin distractions and excuses as to why the job of President is not gettin done. I guess the my way or I'm outta here mantra is an Obama family trait.

    June 4, 2013 09:55 pm at 9:55 pm |
  2. jkane sfl the gop national disgrace party will be swept out like the trash they are in2014 ?

    Probably some gop teaparty Nazi .

    June 4, 2013 10:02 pm at 10:02 pm |
  3. Tom L.

    Why should she have to listen to the grievances of a mere commoner?

    June 4, 2013 10:02 pm at 10:02 pm |
  4. NameTodd A

    Michelle big crybaby like the liar Barry the Muslim is

    June 4, 2013 10:08 pm at 10:08 pm |
  5. cplt20.ca

    We love you Michelle, sorry you had to go through that but you are strong and smart....

    June 4, 2013 10:09 pm at 10:09 pm |
  6. CMI

    She is not an elected official but if she is talking politics she has to deal with it.

    June 4, 2013 10:09 pm at 10:09 pm |
  7. trcimino

    Attacking a lightning rod doesn't make you lightning.....

    An appropriate response to an inappropriate interruption. Kudos to our First Lady.

    June 4, 2013 10:10 pm at 10:10 pm |
  8. Herenamaste

    Leave??? Due to a protester?? Welcome to politics Michelle Obama....if you have any wherewithal to run in the future I suggest you stand strong as opposed to running away.

    June 4, 2013 10:11 pm at 10:11 pm |
  9. Rob

    That's how she talks to Barry in the White House.

    June 4, 2013 10:11 pm at 10:11 pm |
  10. Bree57

    ROFL! Lose your cool, michelle?

    June 4, 2013 10:11 pm at 10:11 pm |
  11. Kevin

    Short temper.

    June 4, 2013 10:11 pm at 10:11 pm |
  12. rboth

    I'm glad she wasn't cowed by someone yelling during her remarks. It's disrespectful to everyone in attendance and unnecessary. Go, First lady!

    June 4, 2013 10:11 pm at 10:11 pm |
  13. Bree57

    Ok, I'll try THIS comment.... Lose your cool, michelle?

    June 4, 2013 10:13 pm at 10:13 pm |
  14. truthbtolledude

    the obamas are not the enemy, friends. work with the ones who have dodged he republican nightmare congress and come up a) alive b) with integrity and c) on your side. when did you ever have such support in the white house? wake up.

    June 4, 2013 10:13 pm at 10:13 pm |
  15. Anton

    Seems like legit gripe, and I'm a Obama voter.

    Can't all be ivory tower.

    June 4, 2013 10:14 pm at 10:14 pm |
  16. tom bhai

    Crazy woman forgot to take her medication. This what we call a mental case,

    June 4, 2013 10:14 pm at 10:14 pm |
  17. really?

    LOL – nice strong first lady. She can campaign, cajole, lecture, admonish. But dare question her...and she turns into a spoiled 8 yo girl.

    June 4, 2013 10:15 pm at 10:15 pm |
  18. Saggin

    Well she accomplished 3 things successfully. She got her name, her agenda and the name of her organization exposure. duh!

    June 4, 2013 10:15 pm at 10:15 pm |
  19. PaulofTarsus

    Congrats to FLOTUS! Heckler was way out of line. This type of rude behavior has to stop now. The heckler's demand that FLOTUS tell the President to write an executive order is just plain wrong on all levels. There is a time and place for everything – this was neither the time nor place for the heckler's agenda. God Bless America.

    June 4, 2013 10:15 pm at 10:15 pm |
  20. Joshewa mac

    Shes a dumb box anyways cant wait for her and king obama to be gone

    June 4, 2013 10:16 pm at 10:16 pm |
  21. kevin

    Well......that heckler can sure plan on being audited by the IRS now.

    June 4, 2013 10:17 pm at 10:17 pm |
  22. Leprechaun

    I don't care who you are or what you represent no one has the right to heckle a speaker who has been invited to use the mic. If you want to talk wait until the mic is offered to YOU!

    June 4, 2013 10:17 pm at 10:17 pm |
  23. Rudy NYC

    There are elements on the right that are appalling disrespectful of the office. There are minds out there there that think that the more outrageous the disrespect, the more successful and honorable the act. And the right wing continues to their bizarre denial of reality and what they claim are their basic Christian values. "Do unto others as you would have others do unto you." The hypocrisy goes beyond disbelief.

    June 4, 2013 10:18 pm at 10:18 pm |
  24. Sherey

    The First Lady does not deserve this and should be treated with respect not because she is the First Lady but because she is a wonderful American citizen like most.

    June 4, 2013 10:18 pm at 10:18 pm |
  25. declan

    Dam. I hate when one of my 10k per plate fund raisers doesn't go as planned !

    June 4, 2013 10:18 pm at 10:18 pm |
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