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. vicki

    Some of these gay activist getting on my nerves really.I am 100% with your cause,but some are out of control and disrespectful. You are winning but some want everything to just fall into place like there is no struggle...get a freaking grip..

    June 5, 2013 11:18 am at 11:18 am |
  2. censored

    Mrs Obama should have had her right to speak just as any invited speaker should.

    June 5, 2013 11:18 am at 11:18 am |
  3. pmmarion

    Good for Michelle!

    June 5, 2013 11:19 am at 11:19 am |
  4. dennis

    Way To Go MICHELLE!! She diffused the situation by putting the heckler on the spot..I love it

    June 5, 2013 11:19 am at 11:19 am |
  5. Dude Love

    She's a tool and an embarrassment to the country.

    June 5, 2013 11:19 am at 11:19 am |
  6. Laura

    Its not only unacceptable to interupt a speaker, but also unacceptable, when under the meaning of the co-called rights of sexual minorities, in fact, carried out an aggressive promotion and image of the imposition of certain behaviors that may offend a significant section of society. This is protection our kids need to raise them in strong morals and values, and not to confuse them to the point when grown up they dont see any difference between right and wrong, acceptable and non-acceptable, moral and immoral.

    June 5, 2013 11:19 am at 11:19 am |
  7. Rich

    I find it funny that the people trashing Michelle Obama for standing up to the heckler are, most likely, the same people who don't believe in LGBT equality. I am gay, but the heckler was out of line and the First Lady was right to confront her.

    June 5, 2013 11:20 am at 11:20 am |
  8. Constantine16621990

    Way to go Michelle!!!!

    June 5, 2013 11:20 am at 11:20 am |
  9. Gordon

    Not certain why I care. She is worthless, her husband is only slightly better, but both are bad people. So again, who cares.

    June 5, 2013 11:20 am at 11:20 am |
  10. Chris

    Respect for anyone in a position of authority, anyone speaking (without interrupting), parents,etc...seems to have disappeared from "most" of our society.
    We can place blame wherever we want;but It's never too late to do something about it.
    Thank You Mrs. Obama

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

    NOT the proper forum. This lady was out of line. Rudeness only puts your issues in a bad light, whatever they are. Get your own podium, press, and audience lady.

    June 5, 2013 11:21 am at 11:21 am |
  12. Linda

    Am I crazy or was Michelle Obama acting like one of those Real Housewives of New Jersey when they freak out at each other. Good for her!

    June 5, 2013 11:21 am at 11:21 am |
  13. VoteYes

    Mrs. Obama slammed dunked some gay big mouth. Way to go Mrs. Obama!

    June 5, 2013 11:22 am at 11:22 am |
  14. Janelle

    Kudos to FLOTUS for standing up the heckler. I'm glad that she was removed from the event. Yes, we have freedom of speech, but many people are ignorant to the fact you should also be respectful. Just because someone can act like an idiot, doesn't make it a good idea, and doesn't mean that there point will get across to the intended audience any faster.

    June 5, 2013 11:22 am at 11:22 am |
  15. YankeeInTheSouth

    No very becoming of a First Lady, but what else should we expect out of the America hating Mrs. Obama

    June 5, 2013 11:22 am at 11:22 am |
  16. JohnRJohnson

    Heckling is a time-honored tradition in this and other countries. That said, it is intended to be rude, interruptive and combative. Hecklers rarely come off well, regardless of where or who they're heckling. This particular heckler felt that her "cause" was more important than the cause the First Lady was addressing, which is a little self-absorbed and presumptive on the heckler's part, to say the least. Her heckling wasn't meant to inform or move Michelle Obama. It was for the cameras. In that sense, it was pretty disgusting. If you're going to heckle somebody, heckle the politicians who get up in front of cameras daily and spew raw sewage rather than do what they're paid to do, which is govern. Heckle them.

    June 5, 2013 11:22 am at 11:22 am |
  17. paul; grennan

    I understand there are those that think heckling is the thing to do. I don't. It is petty and childish to the extreme. No matter who is speaking at the podium, be they the President, the First Lady, or a member of the "other" side of the aisle, they each deserve the respect to heard by those paying the big dollars to hear what they paid big bucks to hear without interruption from those who apparently think their own opinions are so all important that those opinions need to be shouted out in angry banter and intention seeking glory.

    June 5, 2013 11:22 am at 11:22 am |
  18. tlee351

    The heckler was OUT OF ORDER PERIOD! First Lady Michelle was there to promote a cause for America children, health and exercise. NOT ANY OTHER TOPIC. She was right to confront someone who was OUT OF ORDER and WAS DISRESPECTFUL to her. That's the problem people today are so disrespectful to other another that they feel everyone needs to respect them. Respect goes both ways. As a American the proper way to handle such manner is to first respect yourself and if you need to address what you feel is important than find a way to speak on the topic maybe she would of received her and address her question. Much respect for the First Lady

    June 5, 2013 11:23 am at 11:23 am |
  19. JoeP

    I did Google "the Boulder incident" and you are full of it.

    June 5, 2013 11:23 am at 11:23 am |
  20. Yeah Right


    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 |

    Can you read? The event was a fundraiser. A fundraiser where Mrs. Obama was the speaker. It was not a debate, it was not a town hall meeting. It is was not intended for discourse. It was held at a PRIVATE residence. Did Mitt Romney let people into his country club meetings for $500 a head, and then invite them to shout him down?

    June 5, 2013 11:23 am at 11:23 am |
  21. Obama is Racist

    Good she deserves it! She has 22 assistants paid for by the tax payers and she constitutionally does nothing for the USA! She should re-pay all that wasted money!

    June 5, 2013 11:24 am at 11:24 am |
  22. truth truth truth 2013

    Why do people think they if they are gay GOD is going to accept it. Why should the gay community listen to GOD they have their own path to Heaven thru I guess the atheist or agnostic. I feel sorry for you because JESUS has given you a chance at eternal life but the gay community would rather please that flesh. By the way sin is sin so if you are a liar, theif, fornicator, idolator, and a host of other sins that you do not repent for and turn from them you on your way to hell. Look up the word repent and ask yourself should i be sinning every minute of the day. I still love you my fellow man but the BIBLE says my people will parrish for lack of knowledge

    June 5, 2013 11:24 am at 11:24 am |
  23. Truth

    There's a time and place for everything, obviously something this person (Sturtz) is unaware of. If her goal is to bring about change, unite for a good cause and seek positive change she SURE went about it in a way that accomplished nothing. Read the comments, obvious division and even lack of sympathy for a good cause. I doubt this was Sturtz' goal. Remember, mind what you say, how you say it. Don't be the bad apple in the basket spoiling 'it' for everyone else. Be smart, articulate, elegant and make a difference. Stupid has never changed anything!

    June 5, 2013 11:24 am at 11:24 am |
  24. Jim in PA

    Sturtz is trash. All First Ladies have pet projects, nearly all of the projects are admirable, and yet these women have no authority over actual policy. Maybe Sturtz should have someone read the Constitution to him slowly until he understands this. It is classless to heckle the First Lady, whether it be Michelle Obama, Laura Bush, or anyone else.

    June 5, 2013 11:24 am at 11:24 am |
  25. Name Glen

    Way to go Michelle!!!

    June 5, 2013 11:25 am at 11:25 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