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. Pale Horseman

    This Heckling is Proof of the Gaming Mind Virus in the GOP

    Big Government or Small Government?

    That last statement connects to the perpetual game in you head.
    That is your mental illness for you and everybody else to see GOP!

    Will you argue with me saying that we need a "Small Temperature" and I always want a "Big Temperature"?

    If you don't do the math to find out the answer, it is a perpetual game!
    It doesn't end! And, it's in your head!

    Thank goodness we have the math for our temperature. It's 98.6 degrees!
    Not a "Big Temperature" or a "Small Temperature"

    GOP Stop the Games and be Responsible! Politicians are responsible for more "Life" than pilots.

    June 5, 2013 12:30 am at 12:30 am |
  2. lenny

    probably a drone aimed at this heckler's home as we speak

    June 5, 2013 12:33 am at 12:33 am |
  3. Your Panties in Texas

    Aw, GeezUs! That makes me proud of Michelle Obama.

    June 5, 2013 12:37 am at 12:37 am |
  4. Andrew

    I'd be too scared to talk smack to michelle!

    June 5, 2013 12:39 am at 12:39 am |
  5. Jason B

    The sodomites such as Ms Sturtz have brought a curse onto this country, and our White House has been polluted by this administration's obsession with coddling this MINORITY group. Enough is enough, I'm sick of hearing about these PERVERTS! ENOUGH CNN!

    June 5, 2013 12:39 am at 12:39 am |
  6. pootie tang

    Great job, gay rights "activist". Attack the president who has supported gays more than any other than history. This type of logic will have you voting republican next time around.

    June 5, 2013 12:39 am at 12:39 am |
  7. ouch!

    She got equal and then some.

    June 5, 2013 12:39 am at 12:39 am |
  8. Buddha

    Why would a pro-gay rights protester heckle the wife of the man who repealed "Don't Ask, Don't tell"?

    Way to look like a nut to the only party that supports your cause.

    June 5, 2013 12:40 am at 12:40 am |
  9. Belseth

    This falls under friendly fire where people think they should get a 100% of what they want or everyone should pay. We've seen major advances made but do the radical gay activists think they would be better off with conservatives in power? Change always happens slowly and if you want it faster you risking loosing all your gains. I have zero respect for people like the heckler. All they think about is themselves and not even the causes they claim they support. Demand everything you want or else and you may get your wish as in the "or else" option where you get nothing you want. The liberals are asking you to be patient a little longer and you'll get everything you want. The conservatives want you to curl up and die. Take your pick, which do you want and support that side. Attacking your friends is suicidal and you will loose!

    June 5, 2013 12:40 am at 12:40 am |
  10. Jneuy

    The queen doesn't like her people to speak up.... Go take another vacation to Spain on our dime and take 30 or your friends and family again. It's ok your husband will find a tax to raise.

    June 5, 2013 12:40 am at 12:40 am |
  11. HI

    no video!!!! you disappoint me cnn.

    June 5, 2013 12:41 am at 12:41 am |
  12. jeff

    "First lady clashes with protester; threatens to leave event"

    Get use to it.

    June 5, 2013 12:42 am at 12:42 am |

    I'm getting tired of every gay and lesbian, every peace lover and every tree hugger that wants to have President Barack Obama do this, do that! Come on people get a life. We are not here to please every single freak out there.

    June 5, 2013 12:43 am at 12:43 am |
  14. jeff

    "The protester was identified as Ellen Sturtz of the gay rights group GetEQUAL."

    Liberal gay rights supporter acting inappropriately?

    You don't say....

    June 5, 2013 12:43 am at 12:43 am |
  15. boungirno

    dig this it comes with the turf y would you expect differential treatment all the First ladies know being in the WH demands great understanding because without the real outcry of the voices of our great nation we stand to fall

    June 5, 2013 12:48 am at 12:48 am |
  16. Me

    Awee Poor Mrs. Obama can't handle some real world experiences? Maybe if her husband wasn't such a loser, people would show them some respect.

    Mrs. Obama, I suggest you take some cues from Mrs. Clinton and grow some balls.

    June 5, 2013 12:48 am at 12:48 am |
  17. Computer DNA Sequenced By Rebel Hackers

    if she left, could the attendees take their money back?

    fair is fair.

    June 5, 2013 12:48 am at 12:48 am |
  18. d.m.o.

    She was human and classy at the same time. Good for you, Michelle Obama.

    June 5, 2013 12:50 am at 12:50 am |
  19. mike

    "listen to me or you can take the mic, but I'm leaving. You all decide. You have one choice," Sounds a lot like what her husband likes to do.

    June 5, 2013 12:51 am at 12:51 am |
  20. rinsac

    This gay man agrees with Mrs. Obama. And this didn't help lbgt rights at all. Wrong venue for this kind of protest.

    June 5, 2013 12:51 am at 12:51 am |
  21. BeverlyNC

    I am so tired of the constant disrespect shown for our President and First Lady. It is inappropriate, classless, and demeans the Office of the President. We all despised George W but we all still showed respect for the Office

    It is time for actual work for the People to be done after 6 years of obstruction. No More Republicans. No more lies, hatred, fear mongering, fake conspiracies, and bigotry against every group not white and not male. No More Republicans in 2014.

    June 5, 2013 12:55 am at 12:55 am |
  22. john

    "one of the things I don't do well is this" in other words, I have trained very hard, just like Barack, to read the teleprompter. I cannot respond to any question, impromptu. I am trained to read, not think and respond.

    June 5, 2013 12:56 am at 12:56 am |
  23. Spendlove

    Nobody messes with the First Lady and gets away with it.... nobody!

    June 5, 2013 12:57 am at 12:57 am |
  24. Granite Sentry

    "You have one choice." There she is, folks, in her own words.

    June 5, 2013 12:59 am at 12:59 am |
  25. ronjayaz

    Plain ole racism. How long can these whites hide their anger? Did the first lady finish? This is a none story.

    June 5, 2013 01:01 am at 1:01 am |
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