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)

    Heckler was disrespectful tactics that belittles the speaker. That's what IT is.

    June 5, 2013 11:00 am at 11:00 am |
  2. Slappy_McGiggles

    "you all decide", I guess you can take the first lady out of the ghetto, but you can't take the ghetto out of the first lady.

    June 5, 2013 11:00 am at 11:00 am |
  3. just sayin

    well, obama decided to suddenly evolve just before the election to get a flood of campaign money from the gay community and now they want their pay back. obama has brought this on himself. it is the same obnoxious behavior the left and gays has been exhibiting for years against republicans. i hope they both get a lot more of it. you reap what you sow and i am loving every minute of it.

    June 5, 2013 11:00 am at 11:00 am |
  4. TWM

    Hey Charlie get over the racist crap. It is not the color of the skin the Republicans don't like it is his policies and lies.
    Funny, It was not a Conservative group disrupting the First Lunatic, but a Liberal left wing organization furtehring proof that the left is loonies.
    Jeremy, You mention the Admin that has done the most, LOL He used you guys to win his election and now you are nothing to him or her.

    June 5, 2013 11:00 am at 11:00 am |
  5. Fred8680

    I like Michelle Obama.

    June 5, 2013 11:00 am at 11:00 am |
  6. John Jingle

    @Charlie, your comment is false. First, Obama is NOT Black. He's a mixture half black half white, a Mullato. Second I don't care if the person sitting in the White House is green, yellow, red, or orange. When you are total and complete failure like Obama is and continues to be, he is going to get raked over the coals. His has NOTHING, he's done nothing, but put this country in debt beyond imagination, and continues to lie, coverup and murder innocents. When will you wake up and realize that he is The Worst President to ever sit in the White House in the history of the United States? Wake up sheep!

    June 5, 2013 11:01 am at 11:01 am |
  7. glorydays

    I see no difference between this and the Tea Party not letting people speak at meetings. They end up their own worst enemies.

    June 5, 2013 11:01 am at 11:01 am |
  8. George Dixon

    When is a protester a heckler?

    When there is an Obama on the stage

    When is a heckler a protester?

    When any Republican is on the stage.

    June 5, 2013 11:01 am at 11:01 am |
  9. Slappy_McGiggles

    you all decide – yep, she's a class act.

    June 5, 2013 11:02 am at 11:02 am |
  10. The Griot

    No one should have to tolerate a heckler. People of a "certain mindset" think it's is ok to disrespect the President and First Lady simply because they are Black. Sturtz learned otherwise, the hard way.

    June 5, 2013 11:02 am at 11:02 am |
  11. Dave

    Bob Dole said it best, the republican party should close their doors and start over again next year.Your party is a mess and a disgrace to the USA.

    June 5, 2013 11:02 am at 11:02 am |
  12. NorCalMojo

    Eric Cartman would have handled it the same way.

    June 5, 2013 11:03 am at 11:03 am |
  13. Paul

    For those that are quick to criticize, let's see how well you react within a few days of an assassination attempt on your husband.

    June 5, 2013 11:03 am at 11:03 am |
  14. Jerry

    Sometimes when it's the ONLY forum you can play to, you take your shot...
    SHE DID..
    I don't agree with her but she still has the right to voice her opinion.

    June 5, 2013 11:03 am at 11:03 am |
  15. Bob Star

    The left uses the wacko's for votes but unfortunately has to wake to them the next morning! Enjoy!

    June 5, 2013 11:03 am at 11:03 am |
  16. Joi Gibson

    I do not blame the First Lady at all. She is NOT an elected official (although I find hecklers to be in bad taste in general); she was at a fund raiser at a private residence; if that woman has a problem with the President, then tell the President, NOT the First Lady. Civility apparently has no place in our public discourse anymore and it is a shame. GOOD ON YOU FIRST LADY!!!

    June 5, 2013 11:04 am at 11:04 am |
  17. semper fi

    Well the heckler got the press they wanted.

    June 5, 2013 11:04 am at 11:04 am |
  18. Al

    She lives rent free and her electric, water and food are paid by tax payers. She should be honored to live free and she should be questioned but because it's a Democrat in office the person doing any valid questions is today called a heckler. I guess one Obama is as good as the other Obama after all they are both known for telling stories and lies.

    June 5, 2013 11:04 am at 11:04 am |
  19. Martha

    She's such a graceful woman and an excellent role model. I loved her response to the heckler! Way to go, First Lady.

    June 5, 2013 11:04 am at 11:04 am |
  20. rbudl

    Most people don't think they have to follow rules of society, they believe Free means everyone can do what ever they want. I do not agree with our President on most of his policies, how ever he is the President and should always be respected. I believe Jobs are the only successful way to improve our nation, not more welfare or free programs. I am 100% for taking care of all that can not take care of them selves but not one able bodied person should be on assistance.

    June 5, 2013 11:04 am at 11:04 am |
  21. jrcomo35713

    Hecklers are all about attention. If I'm at the mic, then its my time and not yours so shut up and listen or I will have you removed. Now you tell me whats the problem with this whether you are the first lady or not. Michelle had every right to do exactly what she did. Case closed. Move on.

    June 5, 2013 11:05 am at 11:05 am |
  22. Matt

    I think it's ridiculous for people to say her husband would have handled things differently..He is the president not her. It's ridiculous to interrupt someone who is discussing the future of kids and interrupt them to discuss your own agenda and not let the host finish her topic in which case many other people came and paid their money to attend this behind closed door event with no cameras. I think it's ridiculous that we expect a level of respect from the rest of the world that watches everything we do, when we have little to no respect whatsoever for each other, our political officials and our leaders. At then end of the day, first lady or not, no one should have to deal with the blatant disregard and disrespect of someone else. Respect is earned and not given freely. And also, in 2013 can we quit the racial nonsense, as it also seems that most of the criticism that the Obamas face is only because of the fact that they are black. Grow the hell up.

    June 5, 2013 11:05 am at 11:05 am |
  23. Jerry

    This administration panders to the voice of a few on issues. We have more voters than workers in this country and that's why they can pass these things that will do more harm than good..

    June 5, 2013 11:05 am at 11:05 am |
  24. vdanker

    Sorry, LZ, but there is a proper time and place for protest. Acting in an uncivil manner is inappropriate, no matter what cause you are supporting.

    June 5, 2013 11:05 am at 11:05 am |
  25. Indyswimmer66

    So... you think a GOP president would be better? ("So she chooses to heckle the administration that has done more for equality and gay rights than any administration in history? Nice job ya dolt!")

    June 5, 2013 11:05 am at 11:05 am |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42