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. reality

    Welcome to reality. This happens in all high school classrooms across the nation on a daily basis. I doesn't feel very good does it?

    June 5, 2013 11:06 am at 11:06 am |
  2. FubarObama

    She is very unprofessional

    June 5, 2013 11:06 am at 11:06 am |
  3. growup


    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.


    If you want to see ugly inside and out, look in the mirror. Your comment says volumes more about yourself than Mrs. Obama.

    June 5, 2013 11:07 am at 11:07 am |
  4. NotYoDaddy

    Spoiled Brat of a woman.

    June 5, 2013 11:07 am at 11:07 am |
  5. Chanda

    As an educator, it's the same why we feel with disrespectful students who disturb the classroom and keep other students from learning. There is a time and a place for all things; the heckler chose the WRONG time and the WRONG place. Mrs. Obama is a class act...she gave a CHOICE to the heckler and to the audience. Ms. Sturtz was disrespectful and deserved to be removed so that others could reflect on the real purpose of the event...children.

    June 5, 2013 11:07 am at 11:07 am |
  6. Susan

    I would not want to run into mobama on a dark street.

    June 5, 2013 11:08 am at 11:08 am |
  7. Jerry

    It's sad when we worry more about hurting someone's feeling or not being polite than the REAL ISSUES....
    We need to get this country working but not by the Government controlling everything. We are raising a society of "DEPENDERS on the GOVERNMENT" to take care of them..

    June 5, 2013 11:08 am at 11:08 am |
  8. Wake up People!

    No other POTUS or FLOTUS in the history of this country has EVER been disrespected to the level of disrespect and hatred that this couple has.

    I think this says a lot about how far we haven't come as a nation....

    June 5, 2013 11:08 am at 11:08 am |
  9. muri

    Heckling is always lauded until it happens to your particular mouthpiece. Everyone on the left loved the shoe thrower while the GOP takes great pride in taking down several of the townhall discussions. It's the same thing being done on both sides claiming victim when they are recieving.

    Nothing new here folks. Been going on, in virtually every facet of politics, for quite some time now.

    June 5, 2013 11:08 am at 11:08 am |
  10. mick

    gay rights can wait. Obama is too busy using the IRS as his personal mobsters!

    June 5, 2013 11:09 am at 11:09 am |
  11. Nate

    While I don't agree with the heckler's point of view, or hecklers in general I get it. It is frustrating to live in a country where you really can't be heard. There are so many voices and opinions already that real change is dang near impossible to make happen. The Tea Party for example, was one of the largest groups ever assembled with similar beliefs. If anything, spending and the issues they despise have only gotten worse in Washington. It is frustrating that the politicians already have their minds made up. They may smooth talk you and tell you what you want to hear, but that doesn't mean they will do it. So if you get a chance to have your voice heard, passion may throw you over the edge.

    June 5, 2013 11:09 am at 11:09 am |
  12. nik green

    Whoever shouted "liar" could have been heckling *any* politician in DC.

    June 5, 2013 11:09 am at 11:09 am |
  13. nadinesh

    Well she wanted publicity and she got it. Her ploy worked. All too easy. Cheap, too.

    June 5, 2013 11:09 am at 11:09 am |
  14. Canada

    Gay issues in your country should be Priority # 1,450. There's a lot more important stuff. That being said, though it's not high priority, just legalize it. who's it going to hurt besides Christians (and hopefully we Christians can handle it.)
    Then these activists can find some other worth while stuff to push for.

    June 5, 2013 11:09 am at 11:09 am |
  15. Repub insanity

    Hecklers are not the smartest people... If u have an issue that u want addressed, it's really easy to start an online petition and with enough signatures, the president will sign it... He's done it that way many times... Don't just sit and complain and heckle, use the tools at your fingertips to do something

    June 5, 2013 11:10 am at 11:10 am |
  16. robert

    thiers a time and place for everything , michelle done what she was suppost to... go girl

    June 5, 2013 11:10 am at 11:10 am |
  17. SuperDave

    Well, when you are elitist you think you should not be questioned. The reaction of "I will take my ball and go home" is really pathetic. But what do we expect?!

    June 5, 2013 11:10 am at 11:10 am |
  18. matt

    The Gays should be pissed. Before the election ~ remember this part? ~ he had evolved when silly old Biden accidentally "forced" him out to talk about his stance.
    Now he doesn't need the votes ~ so where is the gay marriage you promised them BO? Once again ~ used you for your votes. now he isn't doing what he hinted at for you. I'd feel used.

    June 5, 2013 11:11 am at 11:11 am |
  19. MichaelK

    As the previous poster said, The Bush folks did it the nasty way, either filtering the potential troublemakers or roughing them up in the parking lot. Im glad she told him off, we need some more realness in politics.

    June 5, 2013 11:11 am at 11:11 am |
  20. dsteinle

    Really CNN?? All the news with the IRS Scandal, etc and one heckler for the First Lady makes the headlines??? The media tells you what THEY want you to be focused on. DRIVES ME NUTS!!

    June 5, 2013 11:11 am at 11:11 am |
  21. cosmok

    @JMBIII – I agree with you completely. And I trust that you would feel the same outrage if it was a Republican. For example, when the Democrats booed and heckled George W. Bush during his 2005 State of the Union address.

    June 5, 2013 11:12 am at 11:12 am |
  22. Blah blah the wheel's off your trailer

    First and foremost, the First Lady is not a politician. Secondly, she was not elected by the people, therefore she does not make policy. If you're concerned about your Gay/lesbian rights, address your concerns with the President. Furthermore, the President's second term began only six months ago. Please have some patience. The President's agenda is not going to get passage overnight. Please be civil and write to the President and address your concerns in a civil way.

    June 5, 2013 11:12 am at 11:12 am |
  23. american 69

    Bad taste by that woman that did more damage than good. Trying to talk over or shout over an invited speaker, no matter the person, is bad taste and is difficult to do in an acceptable manner. She failed.....

    June 5, 2013 11:12 am at 11:12 am |
  24. MartinR

    Sometimes with the LOADED DECK they use in the press pool, the only way to get a decent question in is to interrupt.

    Once the press-cor became the new entourage GOOD media was dead....

    June 5, 2013 11:12 am at 11:12 am |
  25. me

    someone dared to upset her majesty and got her crown all ruffled LOL

    June 5, 2013 11:12 am at 11:12 am |
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