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. Mr Mel

    Ms Sturtz didn't realize who she was dealing with. She didn't expect the kind of response she got from the First lady and she should be ashamed of herself for starting the confrontation. Like her and/or her husband or not they're her cause's best friends.

    June 5, 2013 09:01 am at 9:01 am |
  2. tiz

    HA HA!!!
    Not everybody likes you Michelle..... get over yourself...

    June 5, 2013 09:01 am at 9:01 am |
  3. Richard

    Mrs. Obama does not a politician, her husband is. Respect the First Lady and heckle somewhere else.

    June 5, 2013 09:03 am at 9:03 am |
  4. lmc3

    Why do people go to events to heckle a speaker? It is rude and uncivilized.

    June 5, 2013 09:03 am at 9:03 am |
  5. BoFo

    Michelle, if you can't take the heat......

    June 5, 2013 09:04 am at 9:04 am |
  6. Fred

    Listen to what she says at 0:21 This is more proof that they really don't care what we as the people believe or want. Thanks for the proof again!

    June 5, 2013 09:05 am at 9:05 am |
  7. Texas Crazyman

    Hey Mr. President, I have to agree with Ms. Sturtz. You couldn't wait to "evolve" on the issue of gay marriage and equality during your re-election campaign, what happened?????? Mr. President, is there actually ANY promise that you made to America you plan on keeping????? The smartest person in your Administration took off and left you in the dust, yes, Mr. President your beloved Hillery "I can't wait to be President Clinton." I don't know Barrack, but if you and your party continue to do the wonderful job for this country, I see a serious change in your party's future!!!

    June 5, 2013 09:05 am at 9:05 am |
  8. MJTaylor

    Someone remind this woman that shouting, being disruptive, and disrespectful of those representing the White House are GOP tactics (see "You lie"). And why in the heck would you heckle the wife of one of the most gay-friendly presidents, during whose watch massive changes have happened? In a word...dumb. You won't score any points from heteros who are on the fence for your cause.

    June 5, 2013 09:05 am at 9:05 am |
  9. Larry

    Get at 'em Mrs. First Lady!!! Our President and First Lady are no punks.

    June 5, 2013 09:06 am at 9:06 am |
  10. Evelyn

    Freedom of speech is not a license to be stupid. People can do greater harm to their cause by failing to consider the issue of time, place and manner when exercising their First Amendment rights,

    June 5, 2013 09:08 am at 9:08 am |
  11. griff-griff

    Way to go FLOTUS!! That woman must have forgotten that even though Michelle is a beautiful, articulate, Ivy League educated woman, SHE STILL IS FROM THE SOUTH SIDE OF CHICAGO!!! Why was the protester heckling the First Lady? If her beef was with the president, go to Pennsylvania Ave and protest all you want.

    June 5, 2013 09:08 am at 9:08 am |
  12. Anonymous

    Good for the protester for standing up to Michelle.

    June 5, 2013 09:08 am at 9:08 am |
  13. CindyG

    It sounds to me like this contractor wants special treatment BECAUSE of her sexuality, not in spite of it. What people do behind closed doors is their business, it shouldn't interfere with your job or be a reason you get special treatment or consideration. This chick was out of line. "Out of the closet"?? Who on earch gives a dang what she does after she goes home or who she sleeps with? Sex should have nothing to do with your business or how efficient you are at your business. I can see federal regulations barring discrimination against gay rights in renting homes, raising children or marriage, but when people like this contractor use it as a form of getting special treatment, it's wrong.

    June 5, 2013 09:09 am at 9:09 am |
  14. westcott

    So proud of her.

    June 5, 2013 09:09 am at 9:09 am |
  15. Royce

    So the only future our children should care about is this woman coming out of the closet? Does she really think she should take over the conversation and keep everyone else hostage to her opinions. People like this think they own every town hall meeting and could not care less about the rest of the people there. While her issue is important this is the wrong place to voice it. All she got was everyone else upset over her issue not support.

    June 5, 2013 09:10 am at 9:10 am |
  16. Kzooresident

    More of the real Ms. Obama slips out into the open. Not surprising for someone who took 40+ years before experiencing the "first time she was really proud of (her) country".

    June 5, 2013 09:10 am at 9:10 am |
  17. Den-O

    But she is THE Michelle Obama, Empress of America. How dare you speak unless spoken to !

    June 5, 2013 09:12 am at 9:12 am |
  18. Darla (Edmonton, Canada)

    What a great role model ... and I mean that seriously. We teach people how to treat us ... and part of that is saying, "No, you will not speak to me like that!" This is exactly what Mrs. Obama did! If more women said the same or "No, I do not accept how you are treating me" ... we would be treated with more respect and men would (hopefully) say less stupid things (ie, Chamblis, Akin, Governor of Mississippi, etc).

    June 5, 2013 09:12 am at 9:12 am |
  19. oldleftcoastdude

    No manners, no class. There's a time and place for this sort of behavior, and heckling the First Lady is not it.

    June 5, 2013 09:14 am at 9:14 am |
  20. Dominican mama 4 Obama

    Good she deserves it! She has 22 assistants paid for by the tax payers and she constitutionally does nothing for the USA! She should re-pay all that wasted money!

    June 5, 2013 09:16 am at 9:16 am |
  21. Goblin King

    Funny how they edited the whole incident out of the official White House transcripts. The "most transparent" administration at work again. More and more it feels I'm stuck in some Orwellian nightmare.

    June 5, 2013 09:17 am at 9:17 am |
  22. liberal disease

    i will worry about my child Michele, you worry about your corrupt husband and how he is destroying this country!!

    June 5, 2013 09:18 am at 9:18 am |
  23. steve coster

    The problem with special interest groups is that hey believe they are entitled to special treatment and what they have to say is of interest. The LGB lobby has gotten so fat on the PC bandwagon, that they have forgotten common courtesy and feel empowered to spew their own brand of propaganda wherever and whenever they want, mistakenly thinking that the average person is interested or cares.

    June 5, 2013 09:19 am at 9:19 am |
  24. not helping

    Come on my felloow LGBTQ allies, /\ THIS is not getting us anywhere.

    June 5, 2013 09:19 am at 9:19 am |
  25. GW in MO

    Ellen Sturtz is only doing harm to her agenda by disrupting and disrespecting the side most apt to help her cause. Anything to make the headlines equals extremist and lacking thought.

    June 5, 2013 09:19 am at 9:19 am |
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