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Why Ellen Sturtz, the Lesbian Activist, Heckled Michelle Obama

Ellen Sturtz, the GetEQUAL activist who heckled Michelle Obama at a fundraiser early this week and made international headlines, defends her actions today in a WaPo opinion piece.

SturtzWrites Sturtz:

As a gray-haired, 56-year-old lesbian, I don’t have time to wait another generation for equality — it’s been almost 40 years since similar legislation to ENDA was first introduced in Congress. And being polite hasn’t gotten us any closer to it becoming a reality.

Sturtz says her comments were a spontaneous reaction to Obama's statement about standing up for kids because she thought about all the homeless LGBT youth on the streets who have nobody to speak for them.

Continues Sturtz:

For most of my life, I have been in one closet or another, as my “coming out” process took decades. I remained in the work closet the longest, as a public servant doing environmental and consumer protection work. In the mid-90s, in the final round of interviews for a position I was offered and accepted, I was asked why I was moving to the area. I lied and responded that I was moving to help take care of a “family member.” The interviewer seemed satisfied with the response, not wanting to pry further and assuming it was an elderly parent. In truth, it was my partner of seven years — who I felt I had to hide and whose humanity I felt ashamed to acknowledge. After years of these lonely, isolating and dehumanizing experiences, I’ve only recently been able to find the strength to advocate for myself and millions of others.

ObamahecklerSturtz praises the First Lady but stands by her statements:

Mrs. Obama has accomplished extraordinary things and is inarguably the conscience of the White House. She understands injustice at a deep level, and it was that political conscience I was hoping to stir at this week’s fundraiser. Some have said it was disrespectful for a white woman to interrupt an African American woman, or for an activist to interrupt the first lady. All I can say is that in that moment, I could no longer remain silent while standing in front of one of our country’s most powerful political figures. I spoke up for the millions of LGBT Americans who have to make small and excruciating choices each day about the extent to which they are able to live safe and honest lives.

Read the full editorial here.

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  1. I like her. Good for her. And too bad about the first lady. There were better ways for her to have handled the situation; like, I dunno, honestly answer the question? *clutch the pearls*

    Posted by: ratbastard | Jun 8, 2013 8:59:29 AM

  2. I'm in sympathy with all her views - but I"ve been tired--since the 70s, I've been tired--of lesbians who feel compelled to shove their anger at the injustice done to themselves into everyone's face. (She tells the story herself in the quotation in this article.) Her choice was that of a 15-year-old just starting to learn not to be a child. She proved her adolescence in her very bad choice or getting in the face of such a staunch ally as the First Lady.

    "I can no longer remain silent" in the context she chose was preaching to the choir. Now that you've tried your wings a little where it was safe, Ms Sturtz, go now and try them again in the face of the enemy.

    Posted by: DannyEastVillage | Jun 8, 2013 8:59:32 AM

  3. History Lesson:
    Many supported and loved everything ACTUP did...until the demonstration in St. Patrick's Cathedral went from a planned "silent protest" into a loud confrontational protest.

    Folks thought ACTUP went "too far" and support for it waned.

    Same is happening here. Regardless of the righteousness of the action, heckling the First Lady at a private small event went too far.

    Posted by: QJ201 | Jun 8, 2013 8:59:49 AM

  4. I've never considered the any First Lady or their children political figures. The president was elected, not them.

    Posted by: Mike | Jun 8, 2013 9:01:09 AM

  5. @Mike
    Based on what I know about women, and married couples, I would say you are right. A wife will be perfectly happy to let her husband run the most powerful country in the world, with the largest economy, and most powerful military, and not have anything to do with it. She will just let him do his thing, and leave him alone, to carry out his plans, with no wifely interference. \sarcasm

    Posted by: Anonymous | Jun 8, 2013 9:18:03 AM

  6. @Mike,

    IT WAS A POLITICAL FUNDRAISER. SHE WAS FILLING IN FOR POTUS. The first lady wasn't at a function honoring cub scouts or the garden club, in which both cases,yes, it would have been inappropriate.

    The first lady is also an experience high powered corporate lawyer, not some housewife whose husband became POTUS.


    ACTUP acted in many case obnoxiously in-your-face. Key word here is 'obnoxiously'. Ms. Sturtz may have interrupted the first lady, but I would not have described her as being obnoxious in the sense ACTUP and some other advocates acted and act.

    Posted by: ratbastard | Jun 8, 2013 9:22:55 AM

  7. She was in the wrong.

    The LGBT community has *overwhelmingly* condemned her.

    I do not remember seeing this level of agreement on an issue for a very long time.

    And now she lacks the good sense and courage to admit that she messed up.

    She targeted the wrong person at the wrong venue and made us look like political neophytes.

    Want to make a statement? Self-immolation would *really* make a good point. Doing a shout-out to a politician's wife at a fundraiser is a fart in the wind.

    The only attention she brought was to herself as the heckler. The message was lost.

    Dumb, dumb, dumb, dumb.

    But the getEQUAL has always been about getting their name out there.

    She acted as much for her organization as she did for her cause.

    It is truly pathetic.

    Posted by: Josh | Jun 8, 2013 9:25:31 AM

  8. And as a follow-up, Eartha Kitt didn't issue a statement through any organization broadcasting what she did.

    The message was not lost in the promotion of self or organization.

    Posted by: Josh | Jun 8, 2013 9:27:47 AM


    Wrong. She was there as a fundraiser for the DNC.

    She was not a proxy for the president.

    Do you know what the conversation at the White House was that night?

    "How was your day?"

    "OK. I lost my temper when a heckler hassled me about ENDA."

    "Sorry to hear that."

    Then they had dinner and put the kids to bed.

    She did *nothing* to advance her cause except irritate the First Lady who is an ally.

    She accomplished nothing. All of the posts we're seeing this week. No one is discussing content (except those who believe that an executive order, easily rescinded by a future president) is a good idea.

    And the world at large? It's all about someone heckling Mrs Obama. Or a lesbian heckling Mrs. Obama.

    The rest is utterly lost.

    Those of us who are veterans of direct action look at this and shake our heads. It is everything we avoided. getEQUAL has just done one stupid thing after another. They have never achieved a single goal but have been quick to overstate their impact when they join in a goal which is already inches from achievement.

    They are, quite simply, neophytes.

    Posted by: Josh | Jun 8, 2013 9:34:37 AM

  10. She was utterly ineffective. The demand for rights was lost in the theater of "confrontation."

    Naturally "ratbastard" loved this because it makes gay rights look idiotic.

    Posted by: David Ehrenstein | Jun 8, 2013 9:45:39 AM

  11. I'd like to thank Ellen Sturtz for standing up for the issue of gay rights. If the First Lady was offended, so be it.

    Obama is too busy spying on us and doesn't have time to worry about our rights.

    Posted by: Adam | Jun 8, 2013 9:50:31 AM

  12. Sorry, Sturtz was way out of line. Tacky, rude, disrespectful and ill-mannered. If this had been some Tea Party whack-job in Michelle's face would we have been so amenable to their "righteous cause"? Nope. There are LOTS of ways to effectively lobby - pissing in your hosts punch bowl rarely gets the results intended.

    Posted by: Bill | Jun 8, 2013 9:50:48 AM

  13. Sorry, Sturtz was way out of line. Tacky, rude, disrespectful and ill-mannered. If this had been some Tea Party whack-job in Michelle's face would we have been so amenable to their "righteous cause"? Nope. There are LOTS of ways to effectively lobby - pissing in your hosts punch bowl rarely gets the results intended.

    Posted by: Bill | Jun 8, 2013 9:50:48 AM

  14. Utterly wrong and utterly stupid. Mrs. Obama's talk had absolutely nothing to do with this topic, and to purposely embarrass her in public is really quite inexcusable after the support that she has shown this community. She is not an elected official, and Ms. Sturtz needs to go back in her closet of ignorance.

    Posted by: Tyler | Jun 8, 2013 10:23:20 AM

  15. I love Michele Obama...and Surts's behavior was out of line. But...good for her! Having the balls to speak out passionately for what you know in your heart to be true may have it's time & place...and this wasn't it. She couldn't contain herself and I forgive her completely for not thinking this through to the end. She's running out of time to see her life fully validated by her's pissing her off. I get it.

    Posted by: PAUL B. | Jun 8, 2013 10:27:22 AM

  16. Most of you ARE NOT true Progressives or liberal; you're Democratic party hacks and shills. I respect genuine, real Progressives and Liberals. I don't respect party hacks, Democrat or Republican.

    Posted by: ratbastard | Jun 8, 2013 10:29:55 AM

  17. She's a loser, and a rude loser. She doesn't represent any of us, although she seems to think that she holds that mantle("an advocate for millions of others"?? give me a break). I don't mind anyone being in the closet or discrete, but don't tell everyone how heroic you are and that you represent us when you are only recently out. Let's put this loon back in her closet with a large amount of meds and then nail the door tightly shut.

    Posted by: Phil | Jun 8, 2013 10:31:06 AM

  18. Yay for Ellen Sturtz, a fearless and strong gay woman. She has ten times the courage of most gay men.

    Obama has been exposed as a fraud on gay rights such as ENDA.

    Posted by: Adam | Jun 8, 2013 10:44:50 AM

  19. You respect no one "ratbastard."

    Posted by: David Ehrenstein | Jun 8, 2013 10:45:40 AM

  20. She got her 15 minutes the cheap way. And who gives a crap what Michelle Obama says or thinks?

    Posted by: David Hearne | Jun 8, 2013 10:46:46 AM

  21. " I could no longer remain silent while standing in front of one of our country’s most powerful political figures."

    Oh please.I'm not impressed. You heckled the first lady not some elected official. You took the easy way out. You made a big showing, angered an ally, and now want to draw some empathy. It is easy to stand in front a room and scream. But don't be surprised when you don't get the intended result.

    Posted by: ben | Jun 8, 2013 10:59:56 AM

  22. While I understand her frustration that years of a closeted life of denial and lies beget and appreciate her new found sense of liberation at coming out Sturtz needs to hear and to understand that her actions reflect badly not only on herself but on those she claims to be speaking out for. I don't consider her actions as something that I would condone in others or do myself and want her to know that.

    Michelle Obama is an ally. You don't disrupt an Ally. Activism 101.

    Posted by: JONES | Jun 8, 2013 11:04:25 AM

  23. This editorial is far more interesting when read in the voice of Lindsey Graham.

    Posted by: Bob R | Jun 8, 2013 11:21:16 AM

  24. i'm sure she and Mrs Obama would get along much better with each other than any of the so-called community members on this thread.

    Posted by: shane | Jun 8, 2013 11:25:37 AM

  25. Is Michelle Obama announcing "Best Musical" this weekend? Just curious. Better not be Best REVIVAL of a Musical or she isn't playing oh hell no. Where my marines at?

    Posted by: MIke | Jun 8, 2013 11:26:05 AM

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