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. truth is good

    Sounds like Michelle needs to have some time with professional speakers to learn how to react when these situations occur. Never makes you look good when you don't handle hecklers or interruptions correctly.

    June 5, 2013 09:19 am at 9:19 am |
  2. Sue

    If Mrs. Obama is concerned for our children's future, she should ask her husband to get out of bed with Monsanto.

    June 5, 2013 09:20 am at 9:20 am |
  3. drewATX

    Guess what lady? The POTUS and FLOTUS are Politicians! The only care about getting your votes. I don't believe either are sincere about "Everybody's" rights. If they were then the LGBT community would have seen a lot more action from him by now. He said what you wanted to hear and you voted for him. Don't be that upset, there are plenty more groups out there that aren't happy - but hey it's ok Wall Street is happy – Did ya hear that? Our President of the people who is supposed to be making everything fair for the little guy is reeling in the cash from Wall Street!

    June 5, 2013 09:21 am at 9:21 am |
  4. Carole

    I don't like any Obama HOWEVER the woman was rude and disrespectful to the Office of POTUS and the position his wife holds as FLOTUS, She has done good work bringing attention to childhood obesity. She is to be applauded for this. NO ONE NEEDS SOMEONE WITH THEIR OWN AGENDA AT ANY EVENT SUCH AS THIS.

    June 5, 2013 09:21 am at 9:21 am |
  5. Steveo

    I not a liberal but bad manners is not limited to any political party! She deserved to get the boot! Rude is still rude, red rude, blue rude or anything in between!

    June 5, 2013 09:23 am at 9:23 am |
  6. timverba

    I think the First Lady correctly tried to nip these types of demonstrations in the bud, which are generally shallow and selfish. The President and First Lady are well aware that sexual discrimination occurs and have been seeking to minimize the deleterious effects. Being rude to friends does not gain more friends.

    June 5, 2013 09:26 am at 9:26 am |
  7. steve coster

    SOUNDOFF (no responses)... or just not ones you want?

    June 5, 2013 09:26 am at 9:26 am |
  8. Timodeus

    "lived and worked in the closet, hiding who I was in order to earn a living."

    Welcome to reality.

    June 5, 2013 09:27 am at 9:27 am |
  9. katherine norton malek

    While I sympathize with the heckler/protestor and am in favor of equal rights for all including LGBT citizens, this seems highly uncalled for and does nothing to further her cause or that of other gay ppl. Pres. Obama has done more than any other sitting Pres. to advocate for gay ppl. There is certainly much more to be done but he cannot be accused of ignoring their issues or being complacent about equal rights for gays and LGBTs. Heckling is rude, accomplishes nothing but making the heckler look like an idiot. It actually does more harm than good for her 'cause'. Being rude, interruptive, and lashing out at Michelle Obama – who as The First Lady – is NOT in any decision-making role whatsoever, only feeds into the negative opinions & gives anti-gay pundits fodder for more criticism of gays. Not very bright, Ellen. Keep fighting for your cause, but do it with some class & respect to refute, not foster bigotry against gays & LGBTs. This kind of behavior is juvenile, antagonistic and pisses me off. Pres. Obama stuck his political neck out many times FOR gays. How about a little respect for his wife. Congress & Senate are NOT her gig. Lay blame where it belongs.

    June 5, 2013 09:27 am at 9:27 am |
  10. SloppyDrunkMo

    michelles "move" campaign is a joke to poor people everywhere. More free diabetes and food stamps have been given out under this president then the last 3 presidents combined. If you want to stop obesity michelle then why can we still buy Pop Chips & candy bars on the welfare card? Are these the foods you feed your children or you just dont want to make your voters in the ghetto unhappy with a real stand on life. You people are a mess.

    June 5, 2013 09:27 am at 9:27 am |
  11. phoenix86

    Perhaps even the left will begin to realize that the Obama's don't really care about anyone but the Obama's.

    June 5, 2013 09:27 am at 9:27 am |
  12. truth

    Good for her. It's about time. The Republicans have set a standard of anything goes politics that evokes ruthlessness. The disrespect that want-to-be supreme beings have set is unreal. For example, CNN would never allow a comment box for the supreme white first ladies. People are created equal and it is time that all minorities stand their ground. The main objective of CNN is sensation. Please start reporting real news.

    June 5, 2013 09:28 am at 9:28 am |
  13. Pete

    Ms.Sturtz,its called being polite and letting one who's on the floor speak before ignorently interrupting..Seems you're just an ignorent,bigotted person that hates anything Pres.Obama,First lady do as republicans have in disrespect since his inaugeration..And where were you Ms.Sturtz when Bushs was giving a deaf ear to gays on these same issues ,reading the comics I bet because he's as funny and irrelevant as they are and did I hit a nerve because if I did you and republicans dearly deserve it!!

    June 5, 2013 09:28 am at 9:28 am |
  14. Huh?

    The Obama administration has been groundbreaking with the work and support they've shown the GLBT community. Now, while I'm sure the FLOTUS could've been a bit more composed in her response (as surely she's dealt with hecklers before) this person needs to not knock down their allies. To have Obama sign an EO isn't just a one-step, pull up a piece of paper action.

    I support what this woman wants, but her actions are all wrong. Interrupting and being disrespectful to Mrs. Obama will certainly bring no change. And the Obamas have repeatedly voiced their support of equal rights. So I'm confused on what she thought she'd accomplish.

    June 5, 2013 09:30 am at 9:30 am |
  15. Karin

    Heckling a speaker is NOT the way to get them to listen to your points of view or get them to help you change a bad situation. Ms. Sturtz should have waited until the First Lady had finished speaking, and then asked for an audience with her. She may feel hard done by, but I think she would do well to reconsider that notion.

    June 5, 2013 09:31 am at 9:31 am |
  16. CanThinkForMySelf

    You go girl! Way to handle a heckler.

    June 5, 2013 09:31 am at 9:31 am |
  17. BC

    Good show FLOTUS, Im not against any gay rights agenda...they can do what they want. its called choice..its on them ! But I have an issue when any special interest group trys to impart their position on anyone in a forcefull and unprofessional manner. Write a letter and make your demands or hold your own news conference. If they wanted Ms. Strurz to speak , she would have been on the program...how rude.! smh

    June 5, 2013 09:33 am at 9:33 am |
  18. Evian Bidet

    Ellen Sturtz... shut up.

    June 5, 2013 09:34 am at 9:34 am |
  19. Supercatholic

    They have gotten everything they wanted and they are still complaining.
    Obama must feel like a fool for repealing DADT and pushing for their marriage rights.

    June 5, 2013 09:34 am at 9:34 am |
  20. Joey Isotta-Fraschini ©™

    I empathize completely with Ms. Sturtz regarding her frustration. However, I believe that President Obama shares her goal and moves toward its achievement in what he knows to be the most solid manner for a lasting result.

    June 5, 2013 09:34 am at 9:34 am |
  21. Dyan S

    I can't help but feel there was a better way to deal with this than throwing what sounds like your own childlike tantrum.

    June 5, 2013 09:35 am at 9:35 am |
  22. How dare anyone!

    How dare anyone heckle the "greatly loved" Michelle Obama (according to continually trumped up P.R.)! The goddess will simply not take it!

    June 5, 2013 09:35 am at 9:35 am |
  23. Babyboomer

    Good for the FLOTUS. The blatant disrespect OUR First Family has had to endure is ridiculous (even if this heckler was likely a liberal.) I'm sure she was thinking, ENOUGH IS ENOUGH.

    June 5, 2013 09:36 am at 9:36 am |
  24. Scott

    I am a strong supporter of gay rights. But I am also a strong supporter of acting and behaving in a civil and respectul way.

    To heckle the First Lady, no matter how good your cause is, is rude and uncalled for.

    June 5, 2013 09:37 am at 9:37 am |
  25. Dan Rogers

    While Ms. Sturtz has a right to have and express her opinion, interrupting or heckling anyone regardless of who it is, will not get the point across. As a gay man, I find that actions such as this do not do anything to help people understand. It only serves to antagonize people and continue to keep the GLBT community from being understood. In fact, it may even do more harm and set back all the hard work other people do.

    June 5, 2013 09:39 am at 9:39 am |
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