WASHINGTON, June 5, 2013 — First Lady Michelle Obama attended a Democratic Party fundraiser in the private home of Karen Dixon and Nan Schaffer, in the Kalorama neighborhood of Northwest Washington, D.C. on Tuesday. Shortly after 6 p.m., she was addressing the audience when Ellen Sturtz, 56, a lesbian activist for the pro-LGBT rights group GetEQUAL, interrupted her remarks.
The guests at the event were stunned. Sturtz started yelling, demanding that the first lady tell President Obama that he must sign an anti-discrimination executive order.
The first lady was visibly upset and threatened to leave the fundraiser if Sturtz did not stop interrupting her speech. Obama showed her displeasure, pausing to confront Sturtz eye to eye, according to witnesses.
Obama left the stage walked up to Ellen Sturtz where she experienced a rare face-to-face encounter. The first lady stated, “One of the things that I don’t do well is this,” to applause from most of the guests, according to a White House transcript.
A pool report from a reporter in the room quoted Obama as saying: “Listen to me or you can take the mic, but I’m leaving. You all decide. You have one choice.” Obama’s suggestion that she would leave was not included in the official White House transcript.
The audience responded by asking Obama to remain, according to the pool report, which quoted a woman nearby telling the protester, “You need to go.” Sturtz was then escorted out of the room.
Sturtz said in an interview later that she was stunned by Obama’s response. “She came right down in my face,” she said. “I was taken aback.” Sturtz said she told Obama she was happy to take the microphone to plead her case, which Sturtz said appeared to fluster the first lady.
Sturtz went on to say, “I said I want your husband to sign the executive order.” She added, “Her husband could sign this order tonight and protect 22 percent of the work force in this country.”
Sturtz said she paid $500 to attend the private fundraiser. The gay rights group GetEqual is known for challenging President Obama. The organization gained notice during his first term for heckling him during speeches. They demanded more action on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender issues. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, Sturtz also gave $5,000 towards the Democratic Party and Obama’s campaign in 2008.
Sturtz stated she was devoting herself to full-time activism now, pressing the White House on the employment discrimination issue. The proposed executive order that prompted Sturtz’s outburst would prohibit federal contractors from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.
White House officials have said they back legislation to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, but have declined to say whether an executive order is pending.
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