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. Leather Rope

    The First Lady was sent on a milk run and something negative was allowed to happen. I'm sure the president is more than furious. Heads will roll.

    June 5, 2013 09:50 am at 9:50 am |
  2. Tkp353

    Obviously, she doesn't take too well to being interrupted. Arrogance is her m.o. Anyway, anywhere.

    Heck, hasn't she and her husband said enough already to support gay rights? What do all the homosexuals want? Just run the country or what? They already have more than enough attention as it is, agreed?

    June 5, 2013 09:50 am at 9:50 am |
  3. JKFR

    "I was hoping that the First Lady would share my concern for all of our young people." How about be a better example and not rudely interrupt the speaker at an event! Im not a fan of the first lady, but I am an avocate of the golden rule! Your actions just make you look like a Loon!

    June 5, 2013 09:51 am at 9:51 am |
  4. AZTEA

    "One of the things I don't do well is this," she said

    LOL take note your serfs; do not speak back to the Queen. Let em eat cake baby...........let em eat cake

    June 5, 2013 09:51 am at 9:51 am |
  5. Doc

    To Ms. Sturtz: You are more likely to make headway on your issues if you don't act like a rude child. Interrupting someone at an event, be it the First Lady or anyone else, only makes you look like less. Your behavior certainly wouldn't make me want to work with you. Yeah, you got your name in the paper. But sometimes bad press is just bad press.

    June 5, 2013 09:51 am at 9:51 am |
  6. The NRA is a T e r r o r i st organisation....and MORE JOBS has been created under President Obama 2times over than under GW Bush!!! ***FACT***

    How can this "woman" be surprised by the crowd's response. She was rude and disruptive to the First Lady and the folks who invited her to speak. This has nothing to do with politics; only common courtesy.

    Ellen Sturtz acting like a disrespectful idiot didn't help your cause.
    I suspect she knew it would bring her some attention and the gay ranting was her excuse.

    June 5, 2013 09:54 am at 9:54 am |
  7. Robert Platt Bell

    This sort of thing is getting out of hand,

    June 5, 2013 09:54 am at 9:54 am |
  8. Paul

    Two things, first; " young people who could live full, honest, and open lives with the stroke of the President's pen," If you think the stroke of a pen will do that, you are living in your own dreamy wonderland. Secondly, just look at yourself, you had no restraint whatsoever, other than your entitlement to force your voice on hundreds of people who where there not to listen to you. Next time, think of consequences and then maybe you will get the chance to lobby for what you believe.

    June 5, 2013 09:57 am at 9:57 am |
  9. sonnie3

    Michelle does look like the has a problem with her temper. She had the don't touch me or talk to me as I am better than you all. The first lady crap has went to her head. She sure is not a uniter. For like her husband, Its my way or the highway!!

    June 5, 2013 09:58 am at 9:58 am |
  10. Edwin

    Apparently Mrs. Obama does not handle such disruptions well. Oh well, next story.

    June 5, 2013 09:58 am at 9:58 am |
  11. Steveo

    @Rudy NYC,
    In your haste and zeal to blame the right for EVERYTHING, you need read the article a bit closer. Three questions for you:
    1. What group does the heckler represent?
    2. Does thaty sound Right Wing to you?
    3. Sounds like Christian Values to you?

    June 5, 2013 09:58 am at 9:58 am |
  12. calamity jane

    Lovely, strong, elegant, candid and compassionate. Michelle is everything most men are not. Oh, and one more thing – loyal to her family and spouse – how many men in politics can own that kind of reputation? There should be more women in politics, they have a level of integrity that most men can't even comprehend.

    June 5, 2013 09:58 am at 9:58 am |
  13. Joan

    The heckler used the wrong tactic to get her point across. Actually the Obama administration has been a very strong supporter of gay rights. Hasn't she noticed? To try and get the spotlight by rudely heckling the First Lady at a private fundraiser was pretty classless and backfired big time. Now she gives her real opponents on the other side fodder to say groups like hers are angry, fanatical, loud, rude, etc. Not the way you want to get your point across. The First Lady handled it calmly and gave her an alternative. Simple as that.

    June 5, 2013 09:59 am at 9:59 am |
  14. Caumont

    Typical selfishness by a gar rights activists. No real news that they disrupt or ruin most of what we seek for our children.

    June 5, 2013 10:00 am at 10:00 am |
  15. Johm

    You do not heckle people giving speeches... I don't care who it is. It just shows how disrespectful and low you are. Unless it's Westboro, heckle away then.

    June 5, 2013 10:01 am at 10:01 am |
  16. Jim

    Oh great! Now shes going to hate being an American again! Thanks gays!

    June 5, 2013 10:01 am at 10:01 am |
  17. dizzylucy

    Not sure how anyone thinks heckling a speaker at an event is going to get them on their side for an issue.

    June 5, 2013 10:02 am at 10:02 am |
  18. Zenger Folkman

    Appropriate response from the First Lady.

    June 5, 2013 10:03 am at 10:03 am |
  19. Edwin

    @blackenaustin: yes, she HAS been appointed to a public service role (well, sort of elected to it). For several decades, the spouse of the President has been a spokesperson for one cause or another, and Michelle chose childhood obesity as her cause. She is DEFINITELY been given authority to work with schools and other government bodies on this issue.

    So, yes, she has been appointed to a public service role. And the next President's spouse will be, too - unless the President is single, I guess...

    June 5, 2013 10:04 am at 10:04 am |
  20. Denise

    If one is invited to an event to speak, why should one be put up with an uninvited heckler? Hecklers are only want to shout and scream..and guess what I won't support your cause if you choose the wrong forum and tactic to engage in debate. Gays and Lesbians don't help their cause when they show outlandish disrespect. Secretly people become more intolerant.

    June 5, 2013 10:05 am at 10:05 am |
  21. GoneToPot

    Why is CNN even reporting this? I haven't seen anything on CNN.com about John Kerry saying that the US will sign the UN Gun Control treaty, they lead with Administration makes changes vs leading with Susan Rice to be the newly appointed National Security Advisor, etc.

    Hecklers are just that and shouldn't be given the time of day much less a story here.

    June 5, 2013 10:05 am at 10:05 am |
  22. Rob

    It's about time someone heckled that freeloader! She is ugly inside and out and has been living large off the taxpayer for too long.

    June 5, 2013 10:07 am at 10:07 am |
  23. Bessy

    I don't blame Michelle. She was the speaker. Only one person can speak at a time and this person was being very rude. Michelle is not the president, just the presidents very beautiful well spoken, educated wife, and she does not have to tolerate this type of behavior. She has nothing to do with our congress or our senate and she has nothing to do with making or changing laws. I would have done the same thing.

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

    Respect my first lady. Please don't go there if you do not like Mrs. Obama.

    June 5, 2013 10:08 am at 10:08 am |
  25. Anonymous

    so who got to choose who got to take the mic?

    June 5, 2013 10:08 am at 10:08 am |
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