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. max3333444555

    I like hecklers. they remind our politicians that, when the rubber meets the road, they are just normal people.

    ill also say that its very unlikely that Michele Obama had anything super important to say anyways. she is just a first lady. the spouse of the president is just decoration. to consider them anything more is to over-estimate their influence.

    June 5, 2013 12:53 pm at 12:53 pm |
  2. Steve

    I am very anti Obama, but heckling during a speech is very low brow and shows poor form.

    June 5, 2013 12:55 pm at 12:55 pm |
  3. Darlene

    It's about time The First Lady stopped appeasing ignorance! Put her in her place and keep it moving! Back down or be put down! The heckler (who is not worthy of using her name) won't do that ignorant mess anymore! Obviously she had no home training!!!

    June 5, 2013 12:56 pm at 12:56 pm |
  4. betamel

    It didn't come from the "right wing party".


    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.

    June 5, 2013 12:59 pm at 12:59 pm |
  5. Anonymous

    apparently, saying something a speaker cant retort is considered "heckling" now.

    Expect alot more "hecklers" in the near future kiddies, you reap what you sow

    June 5, 2013 01:01 pm at 1:01 pm |
  6. Bobby

    I was there. The FL started doing that head side to side thing that only black ladies are able to do, and she said, aw aw, I KNOW you didn't! You MUST be done TRIPPIN!!!

    June 5, 2013 01:02 pm at 1:02 pm |
  7. QS

    The greatest thing about this story is that if it can be done President Obama will do precisely what the heckler lady was saying she wanted him to do. I just hope she didn't step all over her point by being so rude!

    June 5, 2013 01:03 pm at 1:03 pm |
  8. betamel

    The disrespectfulness came from the left wing. Name calling and accusations are inherent with democrats and liberals. Just read what you wrote. Oh, and by the way, I am pretty sure that the heckler (gay activist) is not a republican, right-wing "nut baller" as you spewed.

    @ Joe Blow

    When did R*E*S*P*E*C*T become a thing of the past?

    Oh yea .... right-wing nutballs on radio and TV. Sorry, I forgot.

    June 5, 2013 01:08 pm at 1:08 pm |
  9. Wake up People!

    @Dominican Mama.

    Me too!!! Just once I want to see the POTUS put these people in their place. Just once. It's time he realized the rabid, right wing base will NEVER EVER like or respect him.

    I say it every single day, he's a better one than me!!

    June 5, 2013 01:09 pm at 1:09 pm |
  10. USA

    waaaaaaaaahhhhh!!!! I love Obama & Michelle Obama and dont like it when people say bad things about them...wahhhhh!!! this is sooooo funny to watch all of the dumb downed Americans cry....Too bad! You can heckle Mitt Romney or some of the other Republicans but its not ok to hekle Michelle(Big Foot) Obama? Have fun....I am.

    June 5, 2013 01:09 pm at 1:09 pm |
  11. Tata

    White House is getting more ghetto. First Lady of the united state of America should NEVER engage in verbal fussing. I read on here "their fab". NOT. they so FAB that they have times our debt by 3. More then dork bush did. Ghetto fist bumping White House. So disappointed in our country right now.

    June 5, 2013 01:10 pm at 1:10 pm |
  12. USA

    hahaha....Love to see the Libs cry like little babies...

    June 5, 2013 01:10 pm at 1:10 pm |
  13. Cammie

    Protesters need to check themselves before they wreck themselves!

    June 5, 2013 01:11 pm at 1:11 pm |
  14. USA

    waaaaaahhhhhhh....Im a Liberal....I wear a dress.

    June 5, 2013 01:11 pm at 1:11 pm |
  15. Vas Deferens

    This almost turned into the kindergarten graduation incident of last week.

    June 5, 2013 01:12 pm at 1:12 pm |
  16. Ick E.

    Classless. M O....getting in the woman's face and threatening to leave. She should have just ignored her or ....here's a thought....spoken to her about her issue. The "heckler" gave $5k to O's campaign in 2008. Hmmmm

    June 5, 2013 01:16 pm at 1:16 pm |
  17. Anonymous

    If this is the actual way it went I don't think she handled this well. Being a public/political figure you will handle "hecklers" and you should do it with respect and recognizing their comments. I understand the person may have been ignorant or disrespectful but there is a better way to handle this instead of saying this is not something i do, you guys pick i can leave. that doesn't sound like the way a first lady should respond..

    June 5, 2013 01:18 pm at 1:18 pm |
  18. Tree

    I hate the bipartisanship of the comments. Consveratives are complaing about Michelle Obama's response, like as if she is royalty or something, but would the say the same thing about Laura Bush if she had stood up to a heckler. They probably would have said good job or get that heckler. Liberals are the same way, they would probably have said the same thing about Laura Bush as the conservative said about Michele Obama. What really needs to be recognized is that there is a time and place for everything and people should listen to someone if you go to something where said person is suppose to speak to people. This wasn't some random Michele Obama outing, but rather and event where she was supposed to talk to people. I agree with a lot of what the heckler had to say, but that doesn't make the hecklers approach any the better.

    June 5, 2013 01:18 pm at 1:18 pm |
  19. sm5574

    I've never liked her. And while I don't condone heckling at all, this was just another of her (in my view) immature public actions. Professionals don't whine and leave because of a heckler - because then the heckler wins.

    June 5, 2013 01:30 pm at 1:30 pm |
  20. Beverly - NYC

    FLOTUS don't play that. This "activist" got just what she deserved for her rude and boorish behavior. There is a time and place for everything, a private fundraiser in someone's home is not the place to interrupt and show your butt. The other paid attendees are not there to listen to your views or you Ms. Sturtz would have been invited to speak. The President and First Lady are not the enemy when it comes to LGBT issues.

    June 5, 2013 01:30 pm at 1:30 pm |
  21. goblackhawks

    MMMM .. Man the Kool-Aide must be awesome .. you Obamabots can't even read it was at a DNC event .. so no "right wing nutcases" where there .. It was a Looney Lefty ... Marie Antionette is doing a great job at 1st lady ..

    June 5, 2013 01:32 pm at 1:32 pm |
  22. Babyboomer

    Honestly, I hope the President starts doing the same thing. Whether the big mouth idiot comes from the right or the left. They have put up with enough disrespect to last a life time and as far as I'm concerned, ENOUGH IS ENOUGH. Glad the First Lady did what she did and as a AA women myself, I hope her neck was rolling when she checked her.

    June 5, 2013 01:32 pm at 1:32 pm |
  23. johnsonj3

    Glad our first lady stood up to this person. It's about time, this family has tqken a lot since being voted in the frist four years due to the hatred. Great job First lady.

    June 5, 2013 01:33 pm at 1:33 pm |
  24. AZ Girl

    Wow. Do you people hate that hard and that deeply to say the things you are saying to the First Lady of the United States? Do you not even have common courtesy for either her OR the people who paid to hear her speak? That woman was WRONG to do what she did. Mrs Obama was RIGHT in what she did, only one of them could talk at one time. Everyone blames the politicians, other party, special interest groups, or the dog for all of this current discord we have. I blame ourselves. Today I am not only ashamed but also embarrassed by my fellow citizens.

    June 5, 2013 01:34 pm at 1:34 pm |
  25. Jacob

    Michel Obama, WIN... Heckler Fail

    June 5, 2013 01:36 pm at 1:36 pm |
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