Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Michelle Obama Heckled by Gay Activist

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From Washington Post
Obama was addressing a Democratic Party fundraiser in a private Kalorama home in Northwest Washington when Ellen Sturtz, 56, a lesbian activist, interrupted her remarks to demand that President Obama sign an anti-discrimination executive order.

. . . “One of the things that I don’t do well is this,” she said to applause from most of the guests, according to a White House transcript. “Do you understand?”

A pool report from a reporter in the room said Obama “left the lectern and moved over to the protester.” The pool report quoted Obama as saying: “Listen to me or you can take the mic, but I’m leaving. You all decide. You have one choice.”

. . . The audience responded by asking Obama to remain, according to the pool report, which quoted a woman nearby telling Sturtz, “You need to go.”

Sturtz was escorted out of the room. She said in an interview later she was stunned by Obama’s response.
“She came right down in my face,” Sturtz said. “I was taken aback.”

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.
~ CNN Political Ticker

Attendees escorted the protester out as she yelled further, at one point identifying herself as a “lesbian looking for federal equality before I die.”
Heather Cronk, a co-director of GetEqual, a group that advocates for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender individuals, later identified the heckler as one of its activists, Ellen Sturtz. Three other GetEqual activists were also at the event, Ms. Cronk said.
Tickets for the event ranged in price from $500 to $10,000, Democratic Party officials said.
~ New York Times

Sturtz, who was planted at the fundraiser by gay rights group GetEqual, stated that she was "taken aback" by Obama's response, because apparently the idea that she would do anything besides hand Sturtz the microphone and get her husband on the phone is surprising.
~ The Root

Notice the language Sturtz uses to describe the encounter. Rutgers Anthropology Ph.D student Donna Auston emphasizes that Sturtz’s word choice of “taken aback” is one of distinct privilege; Sturtz sees herself as above reproach in this situation. As Auston inquires, why was Sturtz surprised at Obama’s response? “Is it because you did not expect her to exercise agency? Did you not expect her to assert that she is your equal?” Auston asks. Either black women are supposed to tacitly accept maltreatment and disrespect, or when they do exercise their agency, they are branded as the “Angry Black Woman.”
The choice of words Sturtz employed indicate that she has cast the First Lady as the aggressor who over-zealously responded to reason with anger. And once you label a black woman as “angry,” you have, in essence, invalidated any response, no matter how justified or rational it may be. You can silence any challenge or dissenting thought from a black woman by even remotely alluding to this offensive stereotype.
~ Lauren Rankin on PolicyMic

. . . the moment we play the “I just couldn’t help myself ” card we shut down meaningful conversation. Yelling at someone is not “interaction.” Sure, we get noticed, but it’s easy to get noticed. A no-nonsense mom like Michelle Obama could tell you that any 2-year-old in a WalMart can get noticed just by throwing herself on the floor of the sporting goods aisle. That doesn’t mean anybody is going to take her seriously.
~ Mary Elizabeth Williams on Salon

Via Towleroad
The GetEQUAL organizers involved in the demonstration have issued the following statement.

"LGBT people in North Carolina, New Mexico, Ohio and all over the country are dehumanized in our jobs, and we are forced into the closet in order to participate in the American dream. We value the First Lady's leadership and invite her to lead the charge within the Democratic Party to end employment discrimination. President Obama has an executive order sitting on his desk that can protect a quarter of the labor force in the U.S. from workplace discrimination, we will continue engaging leaders in the Administration and the Democratic Party until President Obama fulfills a promise to our community made five years ago."


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