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. Malco

    people need to be quiet when michelle talking–she demand respect or she'll leave!

    June 5, 2013 04:33 pm at 4:33 pm |
  2. Lord Toronaga

    I bet the Obama's cringe these days when they meet LGBT people...as do most people. But what can you expect from people who mutilate themselves and have love affairs with other peoples septic pipes.

    June 5, 2013 04:35 pm at 4:35 pm |
  3. Oh For Pete's Sake!

    Poor Michelle – she ONLY demanded respect after all! And SHE was the classless person who wore a button uo CARDIGAN to meet the Queen? She disrespected the American flag? She NEVER respected America till they elected her shambolic, failure of a husband?

    Thanks for nothing Michelle – if you WANT respect, you have to EARN it!

    June 5, 2013 04:35 pm at 4:35 pm |
  4. libertyguard1

    Typical Obama: She can only pontificate. She can't handle it when someone shovels back.

    June 5, 2013 04:37 pm at 4:37 pm |
  5. Fides

    I thought they are serving THE PEOPLE. Regular people do not have any venue to voice out opinions so the protester had a good opportunity. Who is Michelle Obama to brush her off and threaten. She has to remember if not for THE PEOPLE they would not be in position. She better remember where she came from. I never liked and respected her and will never like and respect her. She acts as if she is the perfect person – she is far from even being a person.

    June 5, 2013 04:40 pm at 4:40 pm |
  6. Hamburger Jones

    Yes, I know all you haters would have liked to be there so you could fling dung and make woop woop noises while scratching your pits. But you weren't, and you will never will matter to the Obamas, and you voted for them both times rather than have an ancient Panamanian or a Mormon Millionaire in the office anyway.

    June 5, 2013 04:42 pm at 4:42 pm |
  7. Lardoggy

    No sleep lost here from the lady who was not proud to be a American!

    June 5, 2013 04:44 pm at 4:44 pm |
  8. billybill

    Stand up comedians handle hecklers better than that.

    June 5, 2013 04:48 pm at 4:48 pm |
  9. Bluedestiny

    LOL let MO leave. She's a waste of skin anyway, her and hubby. Worse than a waste, they're destructive and we're all paying the price. I'd love the opportunity to get in a verbal debate with the witch.

    June 5, 2013 04:49 pm at 4:49 pm |
  10. Hamburger Jones

    "cringe these days when they meet LGBT people...as do most people" Sweetie, your amount of cringe is proportional to how gay and in the closet you are. Did you drop out before you took high school psychology? You are a really blatent latent, twinkie. Everything you post is about gay stuff. You're fabulous.

    June 5, 2013 04:51 pm at 4:51 pm |
  11. nemo

    To Oh for Pete's Sake!
    uuh what does wearing a cardigan to see the Queen have to do with this?
    Sorry – I don't get the connection – you will have to stretch your logic a bit further.

    June 5, 2013 04:51 pm at 4:51 pm |
  12. Junebug

    The point is that when someone is giving a speech at an event where people have paid to hear that speech, this is not a green light for unscheduled appearances and unwelcome dialogue. This woman had no right to bring up things that were completely unrelated to what Mrs. Obama was speaking of. Further, she is wrong–I can think of dozens of cases that have been tried–and won–on behalf of GLBT Plaintiffs who have been discriminated against in the workplace, which in the past would have been either ignored, deneyed or unilaterally dismissed. That woman needs to learn some manners and do her homework and STFU, particularly when her views are unwelcome.

    June 5, 2013 04:51 pm at 4:51 pm |
  13. UDidntBuildThat

    Wake up People!-@Udidn't build that. First of all, you do not know me. Second, please shut up. I learned to never get into a war of words with an unarmed idiot. You and your ilk are so pathetic and transparent that it's sickening.
    I reiterate, no other First Family has EVER been disrespected in such a manner.
    LOL! "Shut up?" Really? Oooo don't like when someone opposes u? Hmmmmm shcould I be scared u r going to send the IRS to come after me? You facts do not add up oh great sheeple. Bush was disrepected more than any other President. Tell me has anyone to this date hanged effigees of Obama or his family? No? Look that one up. And the kicker? when people protested GWB he never sent the Dept. of Homeland Security to video them in the way that Obama has done to the Tea Partiers! Obama SEALED his college transcript. That is fact. So why is the head most "transparent admin" in history afraid to make his college transcript public. No other president ever did. You forgot about the vitriole hatred spewed at Laura and her daughters? Give me a break. Go drink more Obama kool aid. Call me some more names. I guess that means u have lost the argument. 🙂

    June 5, 2013 04:52 pm at 4:52 pm |
  14. Rose Tyner

    FLOTUS is just not up to any challenge. She and POTUS are used to not being opposed. Too bad because that team is two bullies the USA doesn't need.

    June 5, 2013 04:55 pm at 4:55 pm |
  15. UDidntBuildThat

    Oh one more thing Wake up People, 🙂 ( I cannot stop laughing)
    What did Obama say u liberals should do? Oh yeah Obama said you should "ARGUE WITH NEIGHBORS, GET IN THEIR FACE!" (wow what a very "respectful" thing to say fr our oh so respectful POTUS)
    I guess that liberal lady that dared to interrupt HRH, was just following orders. 🙂

    June 5, 2013 04:57 pm at 4:57 pm |
  16. esu589

    Gee; it bothers her. The right is subjected to that all the time.

    June 5, 2013 04:58 pm at 4:58 pm |
  17. Kyle Field

    I have no respect for her or her husband. She's so full of herself (he as well). I CAN'T wait for 2016.

    June 5, 2013 05:05 pm at 5:05 pm |
  18. Gordon

    The Obama's have done so much for the gay community. There is more to be done. This is a democracy and not a dictatorship. Let's give the Obama's credit for moving us forward.

    It is rude to interrupt someone when they are giving a speech. They should have saved their comments to an question and answer session or after the speech at the greet and meet. Basic manners are becoming rare in America.

    June 5, 2013 05:10 pm at 5:10 pm |
  19. Susan

    The wrath of obamarosa....

    June 5, 2013 05:10 pm at 5:10 pm |
  20. Joe B.

    I may of not supported the protestors cause, but I do support her right to say what she wants to benefit her cause. It appears all the Obama's are just self-centered people who are not really interested in listening to the people that voted them back for a second term. Let this be a lesson for all you people who blindly follow the Obama's. They don't care about you or your issues, they only care about their life style in the WH. This really is the worst President in this history of this country. Wake up news organizations because we the people rely on your tactics to get to the real facts. Stop supporting this administration and question everything it does.

    June 5, 2013 05:12 pm at 5:12 pm |
  21. Malory Archer

    Kyle Field
    I have no respect for her or her husband. She's so full of herself (he as well). I CAN'T wait for 2016.


    At which time you'll begin your 8-year whine fest directed at President Hillary Clinton or whichever Dem cleans the rethug candidates' clocks in 2016 & 20.

    June 5, 2013 05:21 pm at 5:21 pm |
  22. Aldo

    The first lady behaves like a spoiled pop star. You can learn from president Obama on how to handle protest.

    June 5, 2013 05:28 pm at 5:28 pm |
  23. stljobs

    Finally a First Lady with a voice...tons better than those old white hags that usually inhabit the white house! It is no wonder that the only self made female billionaire is a black woman. Please note that Martha Stewart is not a billionaire.

    June 5, 2013 05:29 pm at 5:29 pm |
  24. Mommajay

    Protesting outside would have been sufficient. No one should be so rude as to interrupt the First Lady's speaking engagement. Good for Mrs. Obama.

    June 5, 2013 05:30 pm at 5:30 pm |
  25. chuck

    I guess the Honeymoon is over

    June 5, 2013 05:33 pm at 5:33 pm |
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