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Heckler explains why she went after First Lady Michelle Obama

Ellen Sturtz

Ellen Sturtz

Heckler explains why she went after First Lady Michelle Obama

By Boyce Watkin

      Remember the Heckler who went after Michelle Obama in public?  She isn’t done.  Ellen Sturtz made international headlines when she spoke up against the first lady at a fundraiser.  But she was also taken aback when the first lady came right back at her.  Sturtz is a fighter for the rights of the LGBT community and doesn’t feel that President Obama and his wife are doing enough.  Ironically, the president is often criticized by the African American community for doing too much for gay rights at the expense of the Black community.  Which one is right? It’s tough to tell.

But one thing that takes wind out of Sturtz’s sail is that Newsweek named Obama “The First Gay President.”  Unless he really is gay, this says that she is simply pushing for more than her constituency deserves.  But her push has made her a folk hero in some circles, so this could be a lesson to Black people that you should never be satisfied and always keep speaking up. 

When Barack Obama was running for President in 2008, I thought he was serious about protecting the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community from workplace discrimination. He made two key promises — that he would sign an executive order providing workplace protections by federal contractors, and that he would help pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), ending workplace discrimination by all employers. I contributed to the campaign, expecting that if elected, he would keep his word to fight for our community.

Five years later, I’m still waiting. Despite having this executive order sitting on his desk, the president has yet to pick up his pen. While many employers have added nondiscrimination policies on their own, prominent holdouts such as Exxon Mobil set a damaging, dangerous precedent. Millions of LGBT Americans continue to experience the enormous pain of living and working in the closet, not allowed to acknowledge who we are and who we love.

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.

When I attended a Democratic National Committee (DNC) fundraiser a few days ago, I brought this sense of urgency. When I blurted out my comments during the first lady’s speech, it was a spontaneous reaction to her saying, “Right now, today, we have an obligation to stand up for those kids.” I needed to speak up for LGBT youth, who make up 40 percent of homeless youth — kicked out onto the street because parents and workplaces won’t accept them for who they are — and for LGBT parents, whose lack of workplace protections imperils their children’s futures.


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