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. Jill singleton

    Best 1st Lady EVER!

    Go Ms. Obama – you and your husband (who won a 2nd term) are fab!

    June 5, 2013 12:34 pm at 12:34 pm |
  2. Sam

    Who were the Americans targeted by the IRS?

    June 5, 2013 12:34 pm at 12:34 pm |
  3. BS


    "One of the things I don't do well is this".

    Am I the only who sees a lot of inherent arrogance in that statement?



    June 5, 2013 12:36 pm at 12:36 pm |
  4. butterball

    at this point what difference does it make?

    June 5, 2013 12:36 pm at 12:36 pm |
  5. Susan

    I keep saying I've never been less proud of a president and first lady than the obama's and they keep lowering the bar.

    June 5, 2013 12:36 pm at 12:36 pm |
  6. Jeff

    @Uche Agonsi
    The reason they get no respect is because they do not give any.
    Example, When Obama called the policeman a racist(without the facts), and when the facts were revealed he had to invite him to the White House for a beer

    June 5, 2013 12:37 pm at 12:37 pm |
  7. Byron

    I love how some people defend the heckler. Hey, next time you give a speech to a crowd who paid to hear you speak, you let me know, so I can come and constantly interrupt you while you are talking. We will see how much you like that and how much you "defend the first amendment" then... Heckling is just rude, selfish, and counterproductive to whatever issue the protester is trying to push. Those other people in the audience didn't pay to listen to some loud-mouth person interrupt the First-Lady....

    I'm gay and support LGBT rights as much as anyone, but I don't support stuff like this. It is counter-productive and just plain rude. I can't stand radical liberals as much as I can't stand radical conservatives. They are equally annoying and equally as damaging to "their" cause... They run their mouths, never acknowledge that they might be wrong about something, and they never listen. Not to mention the fact that the Obamas have done more to advance LGBT rights in the past couple years than any other president/first lady in our nations history. Change doesn't happen overnight....

    June 5, 2013 12:40 pm at 12:40 pm |
  8. Wake up People!


    Love your moniker btw..... And you and the other poster are so correct. Since Fox turned their comments off there has been a mass exodus over here where all of their hatred is put on display for the entire world to see.

    June 5, 2013 12:40 pm at 12:40 pm |
  9. Lynda/Minnesota



    To be honest, I've never seen such petty childishness directed at a First Lady of the United States as that which comes from the political right wing of American society.

    Makes one wonder where these folks come from mentally – how they were raised by their own parents, and how they are (or will) be raising their own children.

    Its clear you didn't even read the story. Considering that the heckler was a gay rights supporter I highly doubt that this was a member of the "political right wing".

    And it's just as clear you didn't read my previous response stating that I am not in favor of heckling no matter who is at the podium speaking ... regardless of the hecklers political party, activism, or ego. This recent comment of mine was directed at the comments criticizing First Lady Michelle Obama simply for being ... well, Michelle Obama (to put it diplomatically).

    June 5, 2013 12:40 pm at 12:40 pm |
  10. smitvict

    The liberals thought it was fine when Mitt was being heckled. Now, enjoy.

    June 5, 2013 12:41 pm at 12:41 pm |
  11. Southsider1

    First Lady Michelle doesn't mess around! The loud mouth heckler probably pooped her pants when she was confronted. LOL

    June 5, 2013 12:43 pm at 12:43 pm |
  12. sally

    Michelle could have handled this better but all the hate being spewed by the right wingers makes my blood boil!

    June 5, 2013 12:43 pm at 12:43 pm |
  13. McBob79

    The funny part about this is when someone heckled Bush or ANYONE from that administration, the media immediately lent credibility to the heckler. In this instance and one recently with the president, CNN saw fit to show everyone how well the Obama's handled the situation and gave no validity to the protest. More transparent rooting from the media which is necessary since this administration has been ineffective at bringing prosperity to the country where most other presidents have succeeded.

    June 5, 2013 12:44 pm at 12:44 pm |
  14. Jill singleton

    FOTUS does not have to deal with someone being rude, if you don't let someone be rude to you then your are arrogant? When your insecurity meets my confidence then I'm arrogant! No it doesn't work that way. She did not run for office and she owes nothing to you jerks – she doesnt have to suck it up – and lets be clear about it – in the privite sector she was paid VERY well. She never wanted to come to the WH and she is better than the WH. You ppl need sorry butt Laura back – who husband was getting in with Condi.

    June 5, 2013 12:45 pm at 12:45 pm |
  15. Navyvet8192

    You may not like the individual, but you should always respect the office or position of the person who's holding it. Hecklers need to be dealt with swiftly and directly, it's the only way to shut them down. I'm a middle aged white male, and I fully support both the President and the 1st lady in what they are doing for the LGBT communities. This person has done more to damage the credibility of their cause than help it today, and she was made to look childishly uninformed. Good Job!

    June 5, 2013 12:45 pm at 12:45 pm |
  16. Dominican mama 4 Obama

    I wish the President would do the same with those that disrespect him.
    Way to go Michelle!
    I know I'm tired of seeing all the bs you and the President are subjected to. I can only imagine how you must feel.
    Ms Strutz was rude and was taken aback that she was called on it by someone who wasn't having it.
    The FLOTUS is human. She reacted like any of us would, maybe better.

    June 5, 2013 12:45 pm at 12:45 pm |
  17. tlee351

    Disrespect is the most common attitude among our world today, since the Obama's have been in office it has brought out the true colors of American that have been hidden. Yes time has gone but hearts of man are being revealed with the stony hearts, hate, color still a big issue it is all revealing its self in front of our eyes. No other President has not received such disrespect that President Obama! Many of our previous Presidents should who actions were seen and known by many should of been impeached and was still allow to stay in office because of their skin color which does not make any different. Most of America can see the way things are done to our current President to block or hinder him so he will not be know as some that MIGHT FIX OUR COUNTRY. America would hinder and block him than see him fix what needs to be fixed. We should be ashame of ourselves to do that and not see our country move forth. We see so many grown old man trying to act and justify there actions on why they come against him when we all see that their heart has hate due to his skin color. That why many think they can say and disrespect them and think that its ok in their own eyes.

    June 5, 2013 12:46 pm at 12:46 pm |
  18. Redeye Dog

    Give me a break! The First Lady leads a completely guarded and scripted lifestyle! So the first time someone sneaks into her routine, she's ready to pull the plug on everyone else because its "one of the things she doesn't do well?"

    When have you ever heard a heckler ask for permission before attempting to gain the attention of the crowd? If that's the way it worked, there wouldn't be hecklers! Of course it's not courteous!! Hecklers want to create a level of discomfort in an attempt to bring out something "unscripted" in support of the matter they are passionate with.

    In this case, we got to see the true colors of the First Lady. She chose to create an ultimatum toward the guests who had no control over what the heckler was doing. She needs to realize that aside from her husband, she holds the highest and most public position in office!

    The First Lady's demeanor was very unprofessional, perhaps on a level even worse than the heckler, all things considered! Although outbursts by the public are rude and inconsiderate, her choice to put the entire crowd "on check" was very shallow and does not bode well for the position of First Lady, IMHO...

    June 5, 2013 12:48 pm at 12:48 pm |
  19. Rahiq Syed

    Certainly a reflection on her poor breeding. She has no manners or class.

    June 5, 2013 12:48 pm at 12:48 pm |
  20. Dom

    There is a difference between the right to free speech and harassment – this is harassment. Since I am a white male age 45 If I did something like that I might have been arrested. Was this lady arrested? She should have been.... Mrs. Obama is not a politician. She has no power to make laws and she shouldn't be pressuring her husband on policy decisions. He was elected – not her and nobody should be harassing her about anything!

    June 5, 2013 12:49 pm at 12:49 pm |
  21. Dominican mama 4 Obama

    @ Jeff
    Example, When Obama called the policeman a racist(without the facts), and when the facts were revealed he had to invite him to the White House for a beer
    He did not call the policeman a racist. The policeman acted the way police can sometimes act when they see a Black man in a nice neighborhood trying to gain entrance into a house.
    Act like you know or buy a clue.
    He invited him to have a beer to shut people like you up.

    June 5, 2013 12:49 pm at 12:49 pm |
  22. Dustin

    Michelle wonders why she is labeled as an angry African american woman???? Thanks for clarifying that you are just an angry African american woman

    June 5, 2013 12:50 pm at 12:50 pm |
  23. Tom

    I'm pretty sure all those people didn't pay all that money to listen to that lady's protest.

    June 5, 2013 12:52 pm at 12:52 pm |
  24. DoubleEM

    Pathetic. She is nobody – been the wife is not an accomplishment.

    June 5, 2013 12:52 pm at 12:52 pm |
  25. sly

    Way to go Ms. First Lady!

    Nice to have so much class in the White House.

    These are good times for America – no wars, stock market going to 17,000, and 3 more years of a great President.

    June 5, 2013 12:52 pm at 12:52 pm |
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