Arts & Entertainment
First Lady Clashes With Protester; Threatens To Leave Event
By CNN Political Unit
Originally printed 6/13/2013 (Issue 2124 - Between The Lines News)
(CNN) - First lady Michelle Obama had a rare run-in with an audience heckler June 4 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.
"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."
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