Michelle Obama Heckled by Gay Rights Activist at DNC Fundraiser
Tensions were high Tuesday night at a fundraiser in Washington, D.C., when a speech given by First Lady Michelle Obama was interrupted by a protester demanding rights for LGBT Americans.
The incident occurred at a fundraiser benefitting the Democratic National Committee held in the backyard of the private home of Karen Dixon and Dr. Nan Schaffer, a married lesbian couple, in front of approximately 200 guests.
NBCNews.com reports, Obama was 12 minutes into a planned 20-minute speech at the couple’s home when a woman standing at the front of the small crowd interrupted, demanding that President Barack Obama sign an executive order on gay rights.
"One of the things I don’t do well is this," the first lady said before walking down from the lectern and approaching the protester, according to a pool reporter covering the event.
Obama told the woman that people gathered in the backyard tent could "listen to me or you can take the mic, but I’m leaving," before telling the crowd, "You all decide. You have one choice."
It was then, POLITICO reports, that the crowd started shouting that they wanted Obama to stay, and one woman near the heckler said "You need to go!"
As she was escorted out, the heckler shouted: "...lesbian looking for federal equality before I die."
The heckler in question, Ellen Sturtz, 56, a lesbian activist representing the LGBT rights group GetEQUAL, said in an interview later that she was stunned by Obama’s response.
"She came right down in my face," Sturtz said. "I was taken aback." According to the Washington Post, "I said I want your husband to sign the executive order," Sturtz said. "Her husband could sign this order tonight and protect 22 percent of the work force in this country."
According to a petition page on GetEQUAL’s website, President Obama has an Executive Order on his desk, waiting for his signature, that would prohibit companies that do business with the government from discriminating against their employees based on sexual orientation or gender identity. That would cover almost one quarter of the American workforce, but the President is dragging his heels. Each day that the President waits means that government agencies and federal contractors are free to fire or to not hire LGBT Americans simply because of who they are. In 2008, while campaigning, then-Senator Obama promised to sign exactly such an Executive Order in his first term.
The Washington Post further reports that White House officials have said they back legislation to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, but have declined to say whether the executive order is pending.
As of this writing, representatives from GetEQUAL have not issued a statement regarding this incident.