June 4th, 2013
09:42 PM ET
9 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. shelly

    Some people have no class. Bring back the days when people didn't act like complete idiots please.

    June 4, 2013 11:16 pm at 11:16 pm |
  2. enuff

    There is no such thing as being respectful and polite anymore – everyone thinks their opinions trump everyone else's.

    June 4, 2013 11:16 pm at 11:16 pm |
  3. Zoglet

    ahh the cut and thrust of the modern political debate- "shut up or leave"

    June 4, 2013 11:20 pm at 11:20 pm |
  4. Tamika Thomas

    Can't stand the heat, get back in the kitchen!

    June 4, 2013 11:20 pm at 11:20 pm |
  5. are122

    Wow, that protester sure knows how to win friends and influence people!

    June 4, 2013 11:21 pm at 11:21 pm |
  6. Wilburn Smith

    I'm no fan of the President's policies and I didn't vote for him, but the First Lady deserves respect when she's a guest invited to speak at a function. It sounds like she handled this unfortunate incident with the aplomb we've come to expect from this classy lady.

    June 4, 2013 11:22 pm at 11:22 pm |
  7. Micaah Williffed

    I am Micaah from Berlin. You know it is a funny day when a European can say particularly a German that we miss the elegance of Laura Bush. And yes even George w Bush. These two Mr. Obama & his wife they are a joke to the position. Especially this Michelle. She has no idea how she makes Americans look horrible. No class, no tact and my God she is no Nancy Reagan or Jacqueline Kennedy who i met in 1961. What silliness, arrogance and what displays of narcissism she & her husband have shown. Oh and I led for the record gay rights in Berlin and as a lesbian she and her husband they don't care for us or anyone except ratings and polls. They have no foundation. Good job America you went from bad to the worst possible ever president EVER. Nobody could be worse then these two & by the way how is her useless mother who conveniently lives in the White House at huge tax payers expense? What a poor job you did George Soros shame on you..

    June 4, 2013 11:23 pm at 11:23 pm |
  8. Ken

    So let me understand.. This administration has been more pro-gay, whatever that means, than any in history. Yet this individual is still not satisfied? I don't get it and I'm more than willing to support equal rights. No wonder many people "scratch ther heads" on this issue

    June 4, 2013 11:24 pm at 11:24 pm |
  9. Bob

    I can't stand hecklers no matter what cause they have. Bravo to her.

    Code Pink is the worst. The media needs to stop reporting on hecklers.

    June 4, 2013 11:24 pm at 11:24 pm |
  10. Way to make

    Your organization look bad.

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

    Good. Escort the freak out of there.

    June 4, 2013 11:25 pm at 11:25 pm |
  12. Bellflower

    Get em Michellle!

    June 4, 2013 11:26 pm at 11:26 pm |
  13. TheTruth

    And then what happened? I'm at the edge of my seat waiting to find out!

    June 4, 2013 11:28 pm at 11:28 pm |
  14. Ray

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

    June 4, 2013 11:32 pm at 11:32 pm |
  15. Ray

    "listen to me or you can take the mic, but I'm leaving. lol


    June 4, 2013 11:32 pm at 11:32 pm |
  16. Chris

    The vocal minority.

    June 4, 2013 11:34 pm at 11:34 pm |
  17. solcotto

    Why wasn't she shut down sooner?

    June 4, 2013 11:37 pm at 11:37 pm |
  18. Steven

    Good for the First Lady. No one deserves the be treated that way, ESPECIALLY if they are an invited speaker.

    June 4, 2013 11:38 pm at 11:38 pm |
  19. GD

    Blatant disrespect for the first lady!!!

    Note: I'm not a fan of the Obama's.

    June 4, 2013 11:38 pm at 11:38 pm |
  20. I Love Michelle

    Michelle is always classy (even when being heckled by someone desperately trying to offend her, Michelle Obama, perhaps their most important advocate on earth. Eh, at least she was their most important advocate on earth.).

    June 4, 2013 11:38 pm at 11:38 pm |
  21. Nameanono

    BOO. GET THICKER SKIN. What a cry baby

    June 4, 2013 11:39 pm at 11:39 pm |
  22. Kathy

    Something like this could hurt her election chances when she runs.

    June 4, 2013 11:40 pm at 11:40 pm |
  23. Candy

    Good for Michelle!!

    June 4, 2013 11:41 pm at 11:41 pm |
  24. Jon

    Is there video?

    June 4, 2013 11:42 pm at 11:42 pm |
  25. Scott

    Sounds like a reasonable request. Why hasn't any of the previous POTUSs done this?

    June 4, 2013 11:42 pm at 11:42 pm |
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