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. Harbinger

    This is the playbook of the androgyny, to hijack political institutions through shouting until it has completely worn down the opposition who relents based solely on not wanting to hear it anymore.

    June 5, 2013 10:32 am at 10:32 am |
  2. us_1776

    Sturtz did more damage to the cause than anything.

    Made her look like some kook. Exactly what is not needed.


    June 5, 2013 10:33 am at 10:33 am |
  3. John

    Left winger harassing a left winger, I love it. LOL

    June 5, 2013 10:34 am at 10:34 am |
  4. Thomas Minter

    This lady was wrong to interrupt Obama the way she did, but saying that Michelle handled the situation perfectly is equally ridiculous in my opinion. Threatening to leave the event? "You have one choice?" I'm sorry, that's not how you talk to the very same people that have put your husband and family in the white house.

    June 5, 2013 10:34 am at 10:34 am |
  5. Malory Archer

    Johnny DC, considering your post appears on page 10 of the message thread, you should have had ample opportunity to review a few posts before posting your inane post. Regardless of who is speaking it's rude to interrupt. At least the heckler wasn't beaten and arrested by law enforcement while the crowd drowns out her voice with shouts ot USA! USA! USA as the previous occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue's handlers and handpicked audiences used to do to anyone who managed to slip past the layers & layers of protections in order to unfurl a banner or expose a t-shirt espousing their displeasure with that administration. One such incident happened in Tampa. The victims were two elderly ladies and a disbled middle-age man.

    June 5, 2013 10:34 am at 10:34 am |
  6. Harbinger

    It is an example of how out of touch the career politicians are with society when someone has to spend between 500 and 10,000 to get in the same room as one of them to hear them give a prepared speech where an honest discourse does not take place.

    June 5, 2013 10:35 am at 10:35 am |
  7. steve

    Ha. If the heckler had been a conservative, the comments here would be very different. Since it was a leftie heckler, the comments are toned way down and very polite.

    June 5, 2013 10:36 am at 10:36 am |
  8. NameDeb B

    When talking about the heckler it was stated that gays want everything at once. Why should we want less than all just as other americans receive. It was am offensive remark.

    June 5, 2013 10:36 am at 10:36 am |
  9. Bobbie Jo Justice

    The president should sign an executive order allowing marriage for ALL people, including the glbt community. Then he can sign another executive order banning discrimination against ALL people, glbt included. The phrase is LIBERTY AND JUSTICE FOR ALL, and NOT ,liberty and justice, but only for bigoted, homophobic, transphobic hate-filled "christians" .

    Then we can go after low life bank scum who STOLE $700 billion from the american taxpayer.

    If he isn't willing to do it, then put me in charge, because I will bypass those idiots in congress and start "executive ordering" everything.

    June 5, 2013 10:36 am at 10:36 am |
  10. sean

    lol you people hate Obama so much that youd forgo your opinions on homosexuality just to stick it to his wife... this country is so screwed up

    June 5, 2013 10:37 am at 10:37 am |
  11. Chris

    Once again an Obama steps on and squashes America's Freedom of Speech! She's identified herself and being one of the Select to be able to speak freely, but not anyone else with a difference of opinion or different agenda than an Obama.

    June 5, 2013 10:37 am at 10:37 am |
  12. marc

    Code Pink used to be so heroic when they harassed Pres Bush, but now that they act all principled and treat the Obama admin the same, I think we can all agree that they've outlasted their welcome, much like Cindy Sheehan. How these women convince themselves that there media treatment would be anything other than entirely partisan is beyond me.

    June 5, 2013 10:37 am at 10:37 am |
  13. From Chicago

    Way to go First Lady Obama! She is not a punk!! I am so proud of her for standing up to the hackler!! Too often the president has had to humble himself, and allow idiots to interrupt his speech, but not the First Lady! I am so glad the First Lady stood up to Ms. Sturtz!! I love and respect her even more, after this incident!!!
    As some have previously stated, there is a time and place for everything, and this was not the time for her comments. Ms. Sturtz's behavior was rude, and again, I'm glad the first lady shut her up!!!

    June 5, 2013 10:39 am at 10:39 am |
  14. mabc

    CNN not have published the name of the woman or her cause. For $500, the woman got
    national publicity.

    June 5, 2013 10:40 am at 10:40 am |
  15. okfine

    Micaah Williffed

    I am Micaah from Berlin


    Sure your are. More likely Rush from Florida.

    June 5, 2013 10:40 am at 10:40 am |
  16. Name rene

    You were concerned about yourself and trying to embarrass the First Lady and not the children. Handle your personal issues on your own time...

    June 5, 2013 10:40 am at 10:40 am |
  17. Amy

    I will do the same of the first lady did, his husband is very polite but she doesn't have any patience with rude people, I am the same. If people is rude and don't have an education is not my problem. Each individual needs to behave in a proper way, kudos for the first lady.

    June 5, 2013 10:41 am at 10:41 am |
  18. IReadIComment

    "listen to me or you can take the mic, but I'm leaving. You all decide. You have one choice,"

    That right there is called POWER & CONTROL. You treat a squealing mouse like a squealing mouse; trap it, squash it, and take it outside. Hahahaa!!
    The stupidity is that...
    1) Sturtz actually PAID to get in and get kicked out.
    2) The Dems already knew Sturtz was there.
    3) Wrong time, wrong place, different topic, just plain dumb.

    June 5, 2013 10:42 am at 10:42 am |
  19. Malory Archer


    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.


    Right, because no other First Lady cost the taxpayer a dime.

    June 5, 2013 10:44 am at 10:44 am |
  20. newz4i

    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." GetEQUAL, until your hecklers learn how to be polite, get back into your closets.

    June 5, 2013 10:44 am at 10:44 am |
  21. The Real Tom Paine


    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!!
    Since she and her husband have been onder constant, withering attack from people over the last several years, who can blame her for finally confronting someone who demands her husband do something that is patently ridiculous, especially in light of his support of Gay Rights? She has been a model of self-control, unlike her critics. She does not have a stable of horses, or thousands of gowns, or a garage with a car elevator: she is an accomplished person who finally was able to confront one of the sillier critics of her husband. If anyone here can say they would have remained silent while their spouse was cosntantly being criticised, they are dreaming. She had a human moment: leave her alone.

    June 5, 2013 10:45 am at 10:45 am |
  22. Angela

    In polite society, one does not interrupt others, does not show up at a private function at a private home and take center stage, does not shout indoors. One who does so reminds some of us of why we spend more to live in neighborhoods or frequent establishments where we don't have to deal with such people on a regular basis.

    June 5, 2013 10:46 am at 10:46 am |
  23. logcabin

    And Ms. Sturtz's IRS audit will be coming in 5...4...3...2...1!

    June 5, 2013 10:47 am at 10:47 am |
  24. Gem

    I think it's pretty clear she's a firecracker. I've noticed that before about her–and a grudge she holds..It is what it is, I guess. Hecklers are horribly annoying though...

    June 5, 2013 10:48 am at 10:48 am |
  25. dzerres

    The Bush people had a different approach. They would beat up people in the parking lot before they even got into an event. Google the Boulder incident if you don't believe me. Heckling is never cool, not for a stand up comedian, not for a First Lady and not for the President – I don't care what you political persuasion is that behavior is just rude and boring. I can see carrying signs but yelling and screaming in uncivilized.

    June 5, 2013 10:49 am at 10:49 am |
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