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. Rusty Shackleford

    The soul sisters don't like to be "disrespected" as they say.

    June 4, 2013 10:57 pm at 10:57 pm |
  2. CaesarXIII

    What a classy first lady. Guess you can't take the ghetto out of some folks.

    June 4, 2013 10:58 pm at 10:58 pm |
  3. smdahl


    The least transparent white house in history is sinking like the Titanic.

    June 4, 2013 10:59 pm at 10:59 pm |
  4. ~My Path's View

    lol...one of their own heckling...too funny!

    June 4, 2013 10:59 pm at 10:59 pm |
  5. Flexx Deming

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

    What an arrogant bitch. I thought king osama and his wife ran on a platform of "transparent" government?

    June 4, 2013 11:00 pm at 11:00 pm |
  6. Flexx Deming

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

    The hubris of this woman and her husband sickens me. Besides, I thought her husband–king osama–ran on a platform of transparent government where everyone has a voice. .. .

    June 4, 2013 11:01 pm at 11:01 pm |
  7. noteasilyswayed

    The new way to protest..... try to shout the speaker down and continue to do so, in order to disrupt the event and bring attention to one's political agenda..... get ready for much more of this, from both sides of the aisle.

    June 4, 2013 11:01 pm at 11:01 pm |
  8. Eiy Levy

    Thanks Ellen. Nothing like an ego centric rant to ruin things for everyone else.

    News flash: Your issue is not the most pressing in the world. Gay rights matter but get a grip already. Do you really think making the news like this helped your cause?

    June 4, 2013 11:02 pm at 11:02 pm |
  9. lukos58

    Good for Michelle Obama! I don't care what your left or right agenda is. You want to protest, take it outside. The last time I was around a heckler, he got a couple of sharp elbows in the gut. Ego maniacs like this would always find some cause to wrap themselves in so they can get in the spotlight.

    June 4, 2013 11:02 pm at 11:02 pm |
  10. samuel

    this is what homosexuality does people lose their bearings and even respect for a first lady.

    June 4, 2013 11:04 pm at 11:04 pm |
  11. Aaron

    Good to Know the wife answers the hard questions as well as the Husband. What will the Democratic party platform be in 2016? The people elected me us in 2012 so we can do whatever we want without answering for it, IT'S WHAT THE PEOPLE WANT!

    June 4, 2013 11:05 pm at 11:05 pm |
  12. Allan

    This was so child like from the first lady not to mention the person talking, sounds like 2 second graders...........Presidents wife should have more class than what she showed

    June 4, 2013 11:06 pm at 11:06 pm |
  13. xirume

    Sexual orientation can be one of many reasons for having a security clearance denied. Federal contractors staffing contracts requiring high security clearances will not hire people they know won't be cleared. If you can't be cleared, you can't be hired. It's not discrimination, it's national security.

    June 4, 2013 11:06 pm at 11:06 pm |
  14. T

    Must have learned "my way or the highway" from Barack, or maybe the other way around.

    June 4, 2013 11:06 pm at 11:06 pm |
  15. Terry

    I applaud the First Lady!!! Don't agree with the Obama's on everything, but right is right!!!

    June 4, 2013 11:07 pm at 11:07 pm |
  16. shay dabbs

    Everyone handles disrespect or arguements in different ways. I call this response by the FLOTUS: DON'T confuse me with the other Obama.

    June 4, 2013 11:09 pm at 11:09 pm |
  17. pete

    ha, really heckling obama on gay rights issues? thats called an overreach.

    June 4, 2013 11:09 pm at 11:09 pm |
  18. blakenaustin

    Who cares what Michelle thinks about anything. Has she been elected or appointed to a public service role?

    June 4, 2013 11:10 pm at 11:10 pm |
  19. muir

    To get in that event and have the access to the first lady and the idiot blows it.

    June 4, 2013 11:10 pm at 11:10 pm |
  20. Shecky

    Those Obamas hate to be questioned. They prefer to be worshipped.

    June 4, 2013 11:11 pm at 11:11 pm |
  21. Bubba Gump

    Well Done Mrs President. Well Done. I am very happy you put these idiots in their place.

    thank you

    June 4, 2013 11:11 pm at 11:11 pm |
  22. goodguy6410

    Can you imagine paying $10,000 to see Mrs. Obama speak? Wow.

    June 4, 2013 11:12 pm at 11:12 pm |
  23. dnokc

    Wow...It really gets ugly when a liberal attacks another liberal! Bet Barry wishes he could exit...stage left as well.

    June 4, 2013 11:13 pm at 11:13 pm |
  24. Chris L.

    ...a gay right's advocate heckled the first lady??? She's aware that this is the first administration who's president and vice president have openly supported gay marriage and have done plenty for equality, right?

    June 4, 2013 11:14 pm at 11:14 pm |
  25. Blue

    Good for Michelle. A First Lady with guts and grace.

    June 4, 2013 11:14 pm at 11:14 pm |
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