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. Malory Archer

    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.


    However, anyone with even the most rudimentary of etiquette skills is aware that a private function in someone's private home isn't the appropriate venue for such outbursts. If she wants to behave that way a public function would be more a more appropriate setting.

    June 5, 2013 05:33 pm at 5:33 pm |
  2. Crystal Trout

    All I have to say is WAY TO GO MICHELLE!!! You go girl, I'm all for gay rights, but there is a time and place ya all

    June 5, 2013 05:34 pm at 5:34 pm |
  3. steve

    I'm not a fan of Michelle Obama but that doesn't mean people should rudely interupt her. Part of free speech is allowing other people to make their speech.

    June 5, 2013 05:38 pm at 5:38 pm |
  4. Anonymous

    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.

    Be careful what you wish for. Or at the very least understand why this thread wasn't closed sooner. Read over the comments and then ask yourself how funny is it to read such hate directed at someone these people who are commenting will never meet.

    June 5, 2013 05:38 pm at 5:38 pm |
  5. Cammie

    Big Bird Johnson says:

    Big Bird Johnson

    This woman acts like many women that share my skin color (black). Aggressive and Arrogant."

    Liar! When one has to identify their race in order to support their OPINION....take it with a grain of salt. Many people can be anything, any gender, race or political party behind a pc screen...namely you. Nonetheless, get your troll ahem stroll on. Its what you and and everyone like you does best.

    June 5, 2013 05:47 pm at 5:47 pm |
  6. Kay

    You mean the "godess" lost her cool? Wow, I'm, I'm shocked, stunned.

    June 5, 2013 05:51 pm at 5:51 pm |
  7. Bob

    I don't care what the gays want there is absolutely NO excuse for this fools actions. Mrs. Obama does NOT make policy. My support of the Gay community went down quit a bit.

    June 5, 2013 05:55 pm at 5:55 pm |
  8. Anonymous

    Thin skin and narcissism run deep in this couple's genes – get over it Michelle you are no better than any other American

    June 5, 2013 05:57 pm at 5:57 pm |
  9. Rosie in VA

    That person called FLOTUS was disrepectful to someone who was expessing their rights to free speech. The Obama's lied to the gay and lesbien communities to get re-elected. It is well known that in private, both Obamas do not believe in equal rights or marriage for gays and lesbiens.

    MO acted in a classless manner and I do not remember any other First Lady.....GOP or Dem acting in such a manner to the public as MO does everyday.

    June 5, 2013 05:57 pm at 5:57 pm |
  10. tim

    Awww She threatened to leave...big deal. She's a media hound anyway.

    June 5, 2013 05:57 pm at 5:57 pm |
  11. VEW2012

    Actually the heckler is wrong. The first lady was asked to attend and to speak, the heckler was not. If the event had wanted to hear from the heckler that would have been the person asked to attend and speak. Hecklers are just plain rude people it was the First Lady's turn at free-speech. If Ms. Sturtz had wanted to get her message across she could have picketed the White House outside the Capital, or hosted her own event.

    June 5, 2013 05:58 pm at 5:58 pm |
  12. Regularguy22

    Flotus has less tact than ImPotus

    June 5, 2013 06:04 pm at 6:04 pm |
  13. Jerry

    I understand the person's message because I am gay. MIchelle is going around talking about the children. It's all about the children. When she herself represents a country that is not treating gay people right. This includes GAY CHILDREN. I stand with the person who voiced her concern after hearing Michelle talk about the children. What country is good for any child who condones discrimination? We've waited and waited and waited and WAITED to be treated fairly and with justice for all. And we've sat through the same kinds of speeches about the importance of upholding the children countless times.

    Instead of talking talking talking, start signing signing signing and doing something. Gay people are paying for her jet flights, her expensive clothes and all those body guards. It's time NOW. When else would someone get a chance to voice their concern over issues if not in such a speech? The President and his wife are untouchables. They are likened to celebrities. And we all know how hard it is to communicate with people who are exalted.

    June 5, 2013 06:05 pm at 6:05 pm |
  14. VEW2012

    @mike. If I remember correctly a heckler at one of Laura Bush's events was arrested. Having a cause does not give anyone the right to be disruptive at a public event at which the First Lady or the President is the speaker of choice.

    June 5, 2013 06:08 pm at 6:08 pm |
  15. don in albuquerque

    I certainly believe in free speech, but not in my private home. This was a private residence and should have been respected as such. If I invite someone to speak in my private home, and you wish to attend you will conduct yourself with decorum and respect for all others present. If not, then I have the right to displace your teeth somewhere around your midsection.

    June 5, 2013 06:11 pm at 6:11 pm |
  16. bill from long island

    But is she still proud of her country?

    June 5, 2013 06:12 pm at 6:12 pm |
  17. spartan3855

    This was a disgrace ,can you imagine any other First Lady having to go through this? There is a time and place. FLOTUS handled the way it needed to be handled but she should have never been placed in this position. Activism is one thing disrespect and rudeness is another.

    June 5, 2013 06:14 pm at 6:14 pm |
  18. Timbjerr

    What I don't understand is, why go after Michelle? She's not a policymaker of any kind. She just happens to be married to the president. This protester should have waited until Barack was doing a speech. XD

    June 5, 2013 06:20 pm at 6:20 pm |
  19. theman

    Let the people speak! Protest, get angry, and let your voice be heard.

    June 5, 2013 07:13 pm at 7:13 pm |
  20. Vijay

    It is up to her to answer the question. When someone is speaking, just listen instead of heckle, once a person complete the speech anyone has right to ask questions. This is a basic decency.

    June 5, 2013 07:25 pm at 7:25 pm |
  21. MIke9

    The heckler was/is rude. LGBT rights was not the issue. Kind of funny though to see Dems wrestling with LGBT outbursts.

    June 5, 2013 07:30 pm at 7:30 pm |
  22. komododr

    That woman is a disgrace to all LGBT's.

    June 5, 2013 07:33 pm at 7:33 pm |
  23. Essie

    WAY TO GO FIRST LADY!!!! I'M GLAD THAT YOU SPOKE UP FOR YOURSELF!! -They think that they can talk or disrespect you whenever they want to! I am so proud of you! -This has caused me to have even greater respect for you! You all definitely belong in the White House....We LOVE You & Family!!

    June 5, 2013 08:10 pm at 8:10 pm |
  24. petroskies

    that way she talk to her husband every-night , she treat to Mr. Obama if you don't listen to me I move out of the bed.

    June 5, 2013 08:14 pm at 8:14 pm |
  25. Frank Garcia

    she can't speak without a teleprompter as well.....and she has NO class! you never stoop to that level. no 1st lady material here.

    June 5, 2013 08:15 pm at 8:15 pm |
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