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. Jopa

    Michelle Obama loses her cool: First Lady threatens to leave fundraiser after lesbian protester heckles her – and the White House deletes exchange from official transcript
    First lady loses her cool and said: 'Listen to me or you can take the mic, but I'm leaving. You all decide'
    Protester was angry about President's failure to order federal contractors to stop discriminating against gays and lesbians in hiring
    The official pool reporter caught the fracas, but the White House later released a transcript that omitted the entire exchange

    June 5, 2013 07:15 am at 7:15 am |
  2. Charles Manteghi

    Mrs. Obama, Mrs. Clinton, They are the First Ladies who truly deserve our nation's utmost respect.

    June 5, 2013 07:16 am at 7:16 am |
  3. Joke

    Obama gets shouted down by a gay rights supporter? Who is the opposition anyway? These days everyone is against Obama.

    June 5, 2013 07:16 am at 7:16 am |
  4. Aimleft

    I also have to wonder why this is even considered "news." There is almost nothing to the story. Once again, the press takes great glee in reporting on anything that will cause peoples' hackles to rise and further divide the country. I blame them, too, for merriily fueling the unhinged, out-of-control hatred that now defines the so-called "united" states of America.

    June 5, 2013 07:17 am at 7:17 am |
  5. Paul

    this tells me she can only read a script. No thoughts of her own.

    June 5, 2013 07:19 am at 7:19 am |
  6. Dar

    Big Baby! I'll leave, I will, I will.( maybe Barack will leave too)

    June 5, 2013 07:22 am at 7:22 am |
  7. rs1201

    In other words, you either listen to me or I'm leaving...arrogant to the nth!

    June 5, 2013 07:22 am at 7:22 am |
  8. hal

    GetEQUAL?? Whatever happened to act(ST)up(ID)?

    June 5, 2013 07:23 am at 7:23 am |
  9. JasonP

    What makes people think they're helping their cause by acting like a complete jerk?

    June 5, 2013 07:24 am at 7:24 am |
  10. bb

    Hecklers don't form policy. Hecklers are in it for selfish gain.

    June 5, 2013 07:24 am at 7:24 am |
  11. Johnny DC

    Queue the silence from liberals once they realize it was one of their own who disrespected their beloved First Lady.

    You can just smell the excitement that commenters had, ready to tear apart whichever conservative group it was that had the gaul to dare disrespect a woman of such value, probably based on race or gender bias. You can just sense the complete emptiness of brainpower when it comes to not remembering and cheering Cindy Sheehan time and time again.

    Or maybe I'll be surprised. Prove me wrong, libs. Berate this Sturtz woman. I'm waiting.

    June 5, 2013 07:24 am at 7:24 am |
  12. Chad

    It sounds like Michelle Obama handled the situation perfectly.

    June 5, 2013 07:24 am at 7:24 am |
  13. Steve

    More signs that it's all coming down. Gonna be a long 3 years for Democrats.

    June 5, 2013 07:25 am at 7:25 am |
  14. Steve

    Disrespectful outbursts like this reverse the cause, no matter what the cause is.

    June 5, 2013 07:26 am at 7:26 am |
  15. Sara

    Good for her!

    June 5, 2013 07:28 am at 7:28 am |
  16. KAtie

    I'm gay and I completely support Mrs. Obama doing this.

    So much for this woman's attempt – heckling is really only going to get you negative attention.

    June 5, 2013 07:28 am at 7:28 am |
  17. johnk

    I love the way Mrs Obama handled this situation, more speakers heckled should do what she did.

    June 5, 2013 07:28 am at 7:28 am |
  18. DB

    No class what so ever. If she is not the top cheese then she won't participate.

    June 5, 2013 07:31 am at 7:31 am |
  19. John

    And that's the problem with gay activists. They don't want equality, they want priority. Gays can diddle each others junk all they care to and can run around cross-dressing in each others clothes as much as they care to, but when they attempt to hold political functions ransom until their demands are met, they're going to get silenced. I don't care how people make their way through life as long as it doesn't interrupt my own.

    June 5, 2013 07:32 am at 7:32 am |
  20. Triple A

    And now the White House for the accuracy of history and transparency has deleted the exchange from the "official records". Democrats, if history makes them look bad... No problem change/delete it.

    June 5, 2013 07:34 am at 7:34 am |
  21. AreYouKidding?

    What a genius. She heckles and embarrasses the First Lady at a private fundraiser. After all, what better way is there to get the Commander in Chief to help your cause? I'm sure that will quickly motivate President Obama to sign that order right away! Apparently, mental illness really is getting out of control around here.

    June 5, 2013 07:34 am at 7:34 am |
  22. sue zehner

    Good for her !!! I am so tired of people having temper tantrums in public and acting like they have no manners or upbringing. There is a time and place for everything.

    June 5, 2013 07:35 am at 7:35 am |
  23. Mr Johnson

    If I had paid a large fee to listen to her speak, I would have personally stood up and told the woman to sit down and at least act like she knew how to attend a function with the First Lady – whether she did or not. Heckling and being rude to any speaker in a private setting is unprofessional – this leaves any comments or remarks she made on the floor to be swept up and thrown away.

    June 5, 2013 07:38 am at 7:38 am |
  24. ally buster

    That is out of line. It is impolite and unprofessional to interrupt someone during a speech.

    June 5, 2013 07:38 am at 7:38 am |
  25. Noah

    awwwww, poor michelle......

    June 5, 2013 07:39 am at 7:39 am |
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