LGBT rights activist Ellen Sturtz interrupted and heckled First Lady Michelle Obama during a speech at a Democratic fundraiser in Washington, DC. Sturtz, who is an activist for GetEQUAL was going after the first lady because of her husband’s refusal to issue an executive order to ban federal contractors from discriminating against LGBT employees.
Apparently Obama wasn’t pleased with the interruptions and reportedly confronted Sturtz and said, “One of the things that I don’t do well is this. Do you understand…Listen to me or you can take the mic, but I’m leaving. You all decide. You have one choice.” The crowd reportedly supported Obama, and booed Sturtz, who later escorted out of the party.
As Out reports, conservatives are jumping on this story to paint the first lady as being “imperious and disconnected.”
Sturtz’s point is valid and her message is important – federal protection from discrimination is very important to the LGBT community. But trying to shout over the first lady of the United States is an ill-advised move – the story isn’t so much about Sturtz as it is about a heckler and an irritated public figure.
What will happen is that many will see Sturtz as a representation of the LGBT community; there will be a perception that the LGBT community is boorish and ill-mannered, especially in light of the fact that the Obamas have recently come out in favor of same-sex marriage. And while all this is window dressing, it’s still important. Sturtz’s valid message of equality got lost in the story simply because she allowed theatrics to get in the way of what she was saying.
I’m not saying that Sturtz’s way of getting her point across would always fail – if she ran up against a noted foe of LGBT-equality, like Jim DeMint or Michele Bachmann, then the impact of her heckling may be more potent. Instead there is a feeling of “biting the hand that feeds you” as one online commentator put it.
LGBT rights have made huge strides in an accelerated pace in the last few years – of course we should demand full equality, and not be content with just some equality. However, activists should be mindful of the situation they are in, and when and how to approach those we seek to change – Sturtz and Obama both come off badly in this instance – and the unfortunate side effect of all this is that LGBT rights took a back seat to a juicy bit of gossip about how the first lady scolded a protestor during a fundraiser.