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. Saggin

    Well she got three things accomplished, she got her name, agenda and the name of her organization more exposure.

    June 4, 2013 10:18 pm at 10:18 pm |
  2. plain&simple

    Sounds like the first lady Ca e the audience a question that recieved a unanimous answer.

    June 4, 2013 10:19 pm at 10:19 pm |
  3. Joe Blow

    When did R*E*S*P*E*C*T become a thing of the past?

    Oh yea .... right-wing nutballs on radio and TV. Sorry, I forgot.

    June 4, 2013 10:19 pm at 10:19 pm |
  4. ray

    What the hell is wrong with the first lady, that is uncalled for on her part.
    The protester is right and should not been talked to like that.the obamas
    Are out of control and need to step down.America is fallen apart beacuse of them .
    Its wrong to have them in odfice.

    June 4, 2013 10:20 pm at 10:20 pm |
  5. j

    glad to see she has patience and class...

    June 4, 2013 10:21 pm at 10:21 pm |
  6. Siestasis

    Good for the first lady I am sick and tired of these obnoxious people who never want to listen but want the limelight. Rude and they hurt their cause by turning people off, like me.

    June 4, 2013 10:21 pm at 10:21 pm |
  7. jennifer in Houston

    Good for Michele.. stands up to them rather than the Bush policy of banning them before hand..

    June 4, 2013 10:22 pm at 10:22 pm |
  8. Richardl

    I can't believe she'd take her ball and go home, just cuz someone has something to say against her

    June 4, 2013 10:22 pm at 10:22 pm |
  9. Tiz

    Welcome to America, Michelle..... The land where not everybody agrees with you....
    Deal with it.

    June 4, 2013 10:22 pm at 10:22 pm |
  10. Towtonfield

    Ah, the Democratic way. Throw them out if you don't like what they have to say. I thought it was a government, of, by and FOR the people....

    June 4, 2013 10:23 pm at 10:23 pm |
  11. pat thompson

    Would love to have seen it!

    June 4, 2013 10:24 pm at 10:24 pm |
  12. Cephus

    Too bad these groups being the major democrats donors have been allowed to do whatever they want to do and whenever they want to do! Anyone with a muzzle strong enough?

    June 4, 2013 10:25 pm at 10:25 pm |
  13. Robert

    She's not elected and took the right approach.

    June 4, 2013 10:25 pm at 10:25 pm |
  14. Really

    This person got exactly what they wanted. CNN coverage. Please stop printing this garbage.

    June 4, 2013 10:28 pm at 10:28 pm |
  15. Jewels

    Honestly, hecklers are usually annoying - but, Mrs. Obama seems like one with quite a temper. I've watched older videos of her and would suspect she's the one that was all-about the Jeremia Wright fella...

    June 4, 2013 10:29 pm at 10:29 pm |
  16. Cory111

    Interupt and get an instant heave ho.

    June 4, 2013 10:29 pm at 10:29 pm |
  17. Beth

    Tell them Michelle!

    June 4, 2013 10:30 pm at 10:30 pm |
  18. Cory111

    Interrupt and security tosses you out on your rear.

    June 4, 2013 10:30 pm at 10:30 pm |
  19. Beth

    Tell them Michelle! Don't take any crap!

    June 4, 2013 10:31 pm at 10:31 pm |
  20. sevensins

    I'd keep it up then!! Leave you worthless tax burden! (Cheers rang out)

    June 4, 2013 10:32 pm at 10:32 pm |
  21. Carol

    Sturtz chose the wrong forum for her complaints. This will only alienate people who might help her. The First Lady handled it correctly, but the woman should have been removed as soon as she started her outburst. This should be a requirement for any event attended by the President and First Lady – immediate removal.

    June 4, 2013 10:32 pm at 10:32 pm |
  22. jamessavik

    thunder thighs vs GetEqual: let's get ready to rumble!

    June 4, 2013 10:33 pm at 10:33 pm |
  23. bmull

    Tough lady.

    June 4, 2013 10:35 pm at 10:35 pm |
  24. Sarah

    Whatever happened to respect?

    June 4, 2013 10:35 pm at 10:35 pm |
  25. ProudDem

    I totally agree with how The First Lady handled that. When will hecklers learn that being obnoxious does not help their cause? I don't like unnecessary conflict either–bye!

    June 4, 2013 10:35 pm at 10:35 pm |
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