June 4th, 2013
09:42 PM ET
10 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. mabc

    Why did CNN publicize this person's name and cause? This will only encourage further interruptions. Thanks to you, her cause got national publicity for only $500. Will keep this
    in mind if I have something to publicize.

    June 5, 2013 05:20 am at 5:20 am |
  2. Ultimate

    Class is not one of either Obamas' strengths, is it.

    June 5, 2013 05:32 am at 5:32 am |
  3. ghost

    I agree with Mrs Obama, that is a question or statement that should be presented to the President or better yet, Congress. Lets make it permanant. Congress's job. I am all for gay rights and I am not gay. It is called human rights.

    June 5, 2013 05:34 am at 5:34 am |
  4. Chuck Steak

    Nobody paid $500-10,000 to hear Ellen Sturtz speak, Mrs. O. handled that just fine!

    June 5, 2013 05:39 am at 5:39 am |
  5. Sick

    Yeah cause gays deserve everything , and everyone is a bigot that doesnt accept their agenda

    June 5, 2013 05:43 am at 5:43 am |
  6. Lee

    Way to go Madame First Lady!

    June 5, 2013 05:49 am at 5:49 am |
  7. Timothy Caldarelli

    I see that the first lady doesnt like it when someone speaks their mind.

    June 5, 2013 05:50 am at 5:50 am |
  8. rocky5

    What a life we are living in this last days lol

    June 5, 2013 05:51 am at 5:51 am |
  9. julia

    Heckling is a poor plan if the protestor actually wanted to get something done...which they probably were more proud of their anger than they were actually trying to get things done.

    June 5, 2013 05:53 am at 5:53 am |
  10. Lauradet

    Good for you M. Obama, but it would have been more appropriate if you did a "smack-down" on the trifling, rude woman, but you are a woman of class and dignity.

    June 5, 2013 05:59 am at 5:59 am |
  11. Vence

    It's time to Obama start to sign executive orders for many of the most discriminatory things in the country.

    June 5, 2013 06:02 am at 6:02 am |
  12. Scott

    Cry me a river, to bad that harpy Michelle did not leave the event. Another worthless Democrat.

    June 5, 2013 06:03 am at 6:03 am |
  13. aldakiller33

    What would give Obama the incentive to protect gay rights? He used you all to get reelected and now he is done with you.

    June 5, 2013 06:04 am at 6:04 am |
  14. Renee

    Well handled!

    June 5, 2013 06:06 am at 6:06 am |
  15. jnpa

    Good for Mrs. Obama. Although she does speak on certain issues for the President, most the those issues are such things as support for military families. She is not elected nor paid for her job as First Lady. She does not need to deal with hecklers. If she had left I would not blame her one bit, but of course all the repubs will not have a field day calling her names.

    June 5, 2013 06:17 am at 6:17 am |
  16. Jack Rivera

    Typical for the Obama and wife, "we are taking our pony and leaving, oops almost forgot the dog part of the show".

    June 5, 2013 06:18 am at 6:18 am |
  17. Martha

    Don't mess with Michelle! Seriously, the heckler showed poor manners & poorer judgement. Does the heckler think she is more likely to get what she wants from a republican president? She shudda shut-up.

    June 5, 2013 06:26 am at 6:26 am |
  18. Jay in NC

    This is the worse First Lady ever. With over 26 million still unemployed, tornado victims, and children with lung problems, she spends her time at $10,000 campaign events. Gets a little push back and threatens to storm out. Wonder how the people that paid for the event feel now that they see how fleeting her support truly is.

    June 5, 2013 06:27 am at 6:27 am |
  19. Ho Hum

    Go Michelle. I'm on the side of gays but that woman thinks she was and her actions hurt the cause more than they help. I would have done the same. I would ask the owners respectfully to escort her out. Some gay activist actions are feeding the anti-gay feelings by the republicans. They are truly fools.

    June 5, 2013 06:30 am at 6:30 am |
  20. Marie MD

    Good for you Michelle. The hecklers are a nuisance and like that clueless woman who heckled the President a couple of weeks ago about Guantanamo (Gitmo for Rick and Ray from GA) she should go heckle the rethugs who are the ones not allowing the President, again, to do anything.

    June 5, 2013 06:31 am at 6:31 am |
  21. JJ

    Who in their right mind would pay that much money to here her sepak

    June 5, 2013 06:41 am at 6:41 am |
  22. johnston Babcock

    and why was she held at a private residence in NW Washington against her fourth and first amendment rights?

    June 5, 2013 06:43 am at 6:43 am |
  23. diana

    hmmmmmmmmmm what do you know. FLOTUS doesn't get to control everything and decides to pack her toys and go to the house. Just continues to prove the NATION can't stand you and your husband and people are getting braver about speaking out. To the Heckler: Hang in there sweetie it's almost over!

    June 5, 2013 06:43 am at 6:43 am |
  24. DDBigtime

    How dare anyone speak back to the first lady of first ladies! She reacted just like you imagined she would.

    June 5, 2013 06:46 am at 6:46 am |
  25. philip

    Anyone could see this coming. When the president gave a forum to the Code Pink heckler last week, even saying that his audience should take seriously what she said, that was a green light for every nut case out there to heckle public speakers in hopes that they, too, will get complimented for it. BO was not thinking very clearly . Now he, and others, have to live with his stupid encouragement of disruptive public behavior.

    June 5, 2013 06:47 am at 6:47 am |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42