June 4th, 2013
09:42 PM ET
9 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. lolatignorance

    Wow.... what else can you blame on Bush. Obama ran on changing policy for equal rights across the board regardless of sexuality, also ran on immigration reform and for making government more transparent.... none of this has happened because we are too busy crying about republicans. YOU RUN THE COUNTRY. Its hard to fight republicans on policy when you're out golfing or on vacation. Your government is wasting your paycheck and you find all is fine.... wake up.

    June 5, 2013 11:12 am at 11:12 am |
  2. RoboKnuckle

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

    So she threatened to take her ball and go home, and people think this was the right way of dealing with the situation?

    June 5, 2013 11:13 am at 11:13 am |
  3. PaulCat

    I would love to see someone heckler the GOP for blocking every effort the president makes. Then maybe he can get yours plus other things done. You people just don't think. All you have in your heart is hate. And they say this is a Christian nation.

    June 5, 2013 11:13 am at 11:13 am |
  4. Fred May Sr.

    This young lady showed the lack of courtesy toward the first lady. This has become a sore spot around the nation. I have witnessed other signs of how disrespect for others has grown. We live in the "Me First Generation". After me you come first. Courtesy toward others is all but left our society. Until Courtesy and Respect for others returns we will see a decline in the world status.

    June 5, 2013 11:13 am at 11:13 am |
  5. Lee

    She needs to learn to deal with them with class...I like when Reagan told he heckler to "aw shut up".

    June 5, 2013 11:14 am at 11:14 am |
  6. Pete

    It's just an ignorent ,bigotted probibly paid person put there to do what republicans have done since Pres.Obamas inaugeration in disrespecting,obstructing anything this president or first lady have done to help America and its people..Republicans the supposid sanctumonious ones feel threatened if things Pres.Obama goes,sounds right..It's in their genes to destroy ,obstruct or whatever means necessary because they don't know any better and if you pin them down they always have a come back line in saying they're trying to help America,what BS from the treasonistic party of NO!!

    June 5, 2013 11:14 am at 11:14 am |
  7. ladeeda

    SO? She offered the microphone to the protester. She admitted she simply did not do or handle "heckling" well. Sounds pretty honest to me.

    June 5, 2013 11:14 am at 11:14 am |
  8. DirtyHeat

    @charlie – You know what is also a lie? Repeating the same old rhetoric that the reason conservatives are trying to block Obama's every move is because he is black. That statement you made shows the level of your intelligence or lack there of. You are so blind in your support of Obama that you aren't even remotely educated in regards to the conservative viewpoint. All you can do is make up some lame excuse that all conservatives are racists.

    June 5, 2013 11:14 am at 11:14 am |
  9. Keith

    Sounds like she acted childish. Heckling is nothing new to political speeches.

    June 5, 2013 11:14 am at 11:14 am |
  10. Rich

    I'm gay, but I think that Ellen Sturtz was out of line and Michelle Obama was right to confront her. The Obama administration has done more to advance LGBT rights than all previous administrations combined, besides Michelle does not hold political office. Ellen Sturtz gets 15 minutes of fame and makes gay rights supporters look foolish and rude. She does not represent most of us. The first Lady is a gracious woman who is supportive of the LGBT community, she did not deserve this disrespect.

    June 5, 2013 11:14 am at 11:14 am |
  11. Mark

    I'd let her walk if she wants to, however, I do agree with Rules of Order and common courtesy. Sometimes we just become rude people. BTW, did tax dollars pay for the trip to a Democratic National Committee fund raiser? In Mongolia, when a President is elected, they resign from any political party and represent everyone. Interesting that our advanced society can't come up with something like that. Once he or she becomes President, they represent everyone in that country. And no, I do not wish to immigrate to Mongolia.

    June 5, 2013 11:15 am at 11:15 am |
  12. sidelines

    To the heckler, life isn't fair so deal with it.

    June 5, 2013 11:15 am at 11:15 am |
  13. kit8

    The US is really a great country where the President and his wife can both be heckled and the heckler does not end up in "Siberia" on a two year prison sentence.

    June 5, 2013 11:15 am at 11:15 am |
  14. works4me

    Ahhh the American way lately. I have a right to be rude and disrespecting. You can have your free speech when the other is finished speaking.
    I'm glad they tossed her...

    June 5, 2013 11:15 am at 11:15 am |
  15. Mary

    Wait, I thought gay activists, indeed all gay people, are above the rules and can do whatever they want. We aren't supposed to hush them because they are an oppressed people. They deserve more than anyone else because everyone is abusive and oppressive to them. The first lady was very un-PC by shushing this gay activist who only wanted to treated more special than everyone else in the room. How dare the first lady not recognize that the world now revolves entirely around gays. How very conservative and un-PC of her.

    June 5, 2013 11:15 am at 11:15 am |
  16. Erik in Houston, TX

    Good Michelle. I agree with the heckler's sentiments, but not heckling – wholly improper forum. Also, c'mon CNN ... "first lady" in the article's title should be capitalized, i.e., First Lady.

    June 5, 2013 11:15 am at 11:15 am |
  17. Vader

    FLOTUS could take some diplomacy lessons from POTUS, but in the end, she was right.

    Hecklers are not about actually making a point, they are about disrupting a speaker from their point. And from what I read, the heckler was way off topic anyway, and her particular advocacy had nothing relevant to the remarks being made by the First Lady.

    June 5, 2013 11:15 am at 11:15 am |
  18. Borderless

    Michelle Obama is too arrogant to handle a situation like that gracefully. At least she kind of admitted that. And yes, once again the Obama administration has paid lip service to the LGBT community to get their votes but in the end proved they are no better than Republicans when it comes to looking out for them. The only difference is, the Republicans are at least honest in denying these American citizens their rights.

    June 5, 2013 11:16 am at 11:16 am |
  19. GOP

    I am not a Obama supporter nor do i agree with lgbt ideals but I do respect what people have to say. Mrs Obama is a great women and this jerk (heckler) should have not even been acknowledged. People like this think they have a right to be rude, interrupt other etc. but if their rights are even lightly pushed they cry foul. What about my rights NOT to hear them.

    June 5, 2013 11:17 am at 11:17 am |
  20. Just_One

    How dare you question me!! Do you not know who I am?!?! I am Michele Obama!!! HUFFHUFFPUFFPUFF!!! And you little people can just eat cake!!

    June 5, 2013 11:17 am at 11:17 am |
  21. Geminiladi

    You go First lady!!!! It is sad that there are so many out there that do not have enough respect for themselves to respect those who hold the highest office.

    June 5, 2013 11:17 am at 11:17 am |
  22. ratickle

    When you are royalty you don't have to deal with protesters. Let them eat cake!

    June 5, 2013 11:17 am at 11:17 am |
  23. Charles

    Please stop saying Republicans are opposing Obama's policies because he's black. It makes you look stupid and lost. Was there ever a time when Republicans supported a Democratic President's agenda? Was there ever a time when Democrats supported a Republican's agenda? Democrats have very, very short memories. You people seem to forget the 24/7 onslaught Bush suffered from the day he walked into the White House to the day he left. Grow up or shut up.

    June 5, 2013 11:17 am at 11:17 am |
  24. Jaimie

    Its about time someone received a little medicine they have been dishing out. Good for you Mrs. Obama. Give em heck. Don't let anyone treat you like that.

    June 5, 2013 11:18 am at 11:18 am |
  25. Marla Neusel

    There such things like, courtesy, manners and respect which many people lack. This heckler seemed to forget that this was not the president she was heckling, but his wife. Michelle doesn't make policy...or does she?

    June 5, 2013 11:18 am at 11:18 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