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. rich

    Great. Now only if other Democrats would do that to the repub/TBs when they start.

    June 4, 2013 11:44 pm at 11:44 pm |
  2. Jason

    I could understand if it was a conservative citizen heckling to protest the policies of the current executive branch (not that I'd agree or think it to be appropriate, but at least I could understand)... but for heaven's sake man, this is the most publicly pro-gay-rights president in the history of this nation. If you're going to nitpick when things are already going in your favor, remind me never to gift you a horse.

    June 4, 2013 11:47 pm at 11:47 pm |
  3. mfvjr

    There will come a time that these people will demand a separate public restrooms because they feel their rights are being violated. Right now there is no segregation except being a male or female. Where will they go then?

    June 4, 2013 11:48 pm at 11:48 pm |
  4. Michael J.

    I hope more protestors heckle her.

    June 4, 2013 11:48 pm at 11:48 pm |
  5. Irskan

    Put the word "Classless" in front of the word "heckler" and you'll have an accurate assessment of the situation.... and I'm a full and complete supporter of gay rights.

    June 4, 2013 11:50 pm at 11:50 pm |
  6. nuclear mike

    ...too bad so sad...the First Lady cannot handle herself well when confronted, but then who is really surprised by this as once the "royal queen" does not have her way she throws a tantrum!!!

    June 4, 2013 11:52 pm at 11:52 pm |
  7. Mark

    It is rude to heckle someone who is speaking. Real freedom includes allowing others to freely speak. Obstructing others to freedom of speech is the first step in the long process that ends in the flying of planes into buildings!

    June 4, 2013 11:54 pm at 11:54 pm |
  8. Kibikim

    Michelle has to get a grip and realize not everyone buys what they are selling

    June 5, 2013 12:00 am at 12:00 am |
  9. Torgo23

    When "first lady" is an elected office with real power and responsibility, then maybe I'll care about who she is or what she does. Until then, who she fights with is just reality TV, nothing more.

    June 5, 2013 12:01 am at 12:01 am |
  10. anonguru

    Shouldn't the first lady be prepared to defend her politics when asking for handouts from the elite busy buying their agenda for 500$ a party

    June 5, 2013 12:02 am at 12:02 am |
  11. Dex

    Obama and his mouthpiece of a wife hate gays. They have only used them as political pawns after public opinion swayed in their favor (right before ELECTION time, no less). This president is a disappointment to the liberals who voted for him and a disgrace on ALL Americans.

    June 5, 2013 12:03 am at 12:03 am |
  12. crimsoninok

    Thats just awesome. Lady Obama shows she doesnt handle confrontation well. Neither does her husband.

    June 5, 2013 12:07 am at 12:07 am |

    What a class act. Always. It's a shame she'll never run for office. Grace and force under pressure and one of the good guys. A Lady who means well.

    June 5, 2013 12:10 am at 12:10 am |
  14. ruralvoice

    To heckle the First Lady is so rude. She was not elected, her husband was. The heckler was a rude person.

    June 5, 2013 12:12 am at 12:12 am |
  15. Just a question

    So if we keep heckling them, will they leave the White House?

    June 5, 2013 12:13 am at 12:13 am |
  16. Dalewyn

    More power to the code pinks and other liberals who have the guts to stand up for what they believe in, even if their own party condemns them for it.

    June 5, 2013 12:15 am at 12:15 am |
  17. sally

    I think there is a better response than the First Lady's. Certainly, her husband would have handled it better.

    June 5, 2013 12:18 am at 12:18 am |
  18. LawlZ

    Wait a second Mrs Obaaama can interrupt and talk smack to others but gets agitated about a single person. Just goes to show the true colors of liberals. Complain till someone calls you out then get mad and threaten to leave. Liberals xD

    June 5, 2013 12:19 am at 12:19 am |
  19. Greg

    So the screaming tantrum didn't work. Got a little CNN time but little else. What I don't understand is why some people think that this kind of behavior will solve anything.

    June 5, 2013 12:23 am at 12:23 am |
  20. Pablo

    Extreme conservatives are in a pickle here...

    1. They want to bash Michelle
    2. But she was being heckled by a Gay Rights protester.

    It may be some time before they are given direction from Fox News as to how they should spin this.

    June 5, 2013 12:25 am at 12:25 am |
  21. Steve Wolff

    If you can't stand the heat, stay out of the kitchen.

    June 5, 2013 12:25 am at 12:25 am |
  22. Clyde Ricks

    Awwwwwwwwww – whats 'a matter Chelle?? Cant have someone disrupting your highness?? Arrogant woman shows the same contempt for America as her idiot husband.

    June 5, 2013 12:26 am at 12:26 am |
  23. hjc

    Sometimes gay rights protesters are overly obnoxious.

    June 5, 2013 12:26 am at 12:26 am |
  24. IMeanReally

    Liberals. They seem to be the only ones that heckle speakers. They even eat their own. Interesting and amusing thing to watch.

    June 5, 2013 12:27 am at 12:27 am |
  25. AdoplhH

    Someone dared to speak, the queen was not pleased. Did she say again she was not proud to be American ?

    June 5, 2013 12:28 am at 12:28 am |
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