GetEqual defends heckling the First Lady: ‘We are treating her as a Democrat leader’

By Arturo Garcia
Wednesday, June 5, 2013 14:28 EDT
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Michelle Obama via AFP
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The co-director of Get Equal, the LGBT group affiliated with the 56-year-old woman who interrupted a speech by First Lady Michelle Obama on Tuesday told The Raw Story that while the group did not mean to be disrespectful toward her, the protest stood in line with its goal of holding politicians accountable for protecting their community’s rights.

“She was the one who went to New York City, stood on a stage and said, ‘Max out, max out, max out,’” Felipe Sousa-Rodríguez said on Wednesday, referring to a previous fundraising appearance by the First Lady on May 29, 2013. “Since she’s the one going to Democratic party fundraisers, we are treating her as a Democrat leader.”

According to MSNBC, Obama said during her previous speech, “We need you to keep on writing those checks!’ And if you haven’t maxed out, you know, what’s my motto? Max out! Let’s say it again, max out! And if you’ve maxed out, get your friends to max out.”

Sousa-Rodríguez also disputed reports saying that Ellen Sturtz “heckled” Obama, saying that she and and three other members of the organization went to the fundraising event to have an “open conversation” with the first lady in hopes of getting her to exhort President Barack Obama to sign an executive order preventing federal contractors from discriminating against employees based on their gender identity or sexual orientation. The move, he said, would protect 22 percent of the nation’s current workforce.

In an audio recording of the event (available here), Sturtz can be heard interrupting Obama mid-sentence as she is speaking about American children and the importance of the 2014 midterm elections.

Reports of Sturtz’s actions also prompted an early backlash online from members of the African-American community, who saw the interrpution as part of a larger pattern of disrespect toward both her and the president.

“For 500 dollars, you can talk to her for two minutes,” said MSNBC contributor Anthea Butler, a religious studies and Africana studies professor at the University of Pennsylvania. “It’s not even like a big giant rally. She probably could have had a 1-minute conversation or so with the first lady and they thought this was the way to do it?”

Butler told The Raw Story that while she supported LGBT rights issues, she did not support GetEqual’s actions, and also heard similar responses from gay and lesbian Twitter followers. Butler said Sturtz’s remark that she was “taken aback” when Michelle Obama spoke directly to her following the interruption was particularly problematic.

“That’s just completely fake outrage,” Butler said. “You know, if you’re an activist, that something’s gonna go down.”

Sousa-Rodríguez said that both Sturtz and GetEqual respected the first lady and that the group had already done everything it could to bring attention to their call for the executive order, which has been pending for more than a year.

“We have protested in front of the White House, we have met with representatives of the White House, you name it,” he said. “And yet, all we get is silence. We don’t get any responses. And to us, the reason why we went specifically to the first lady was because just the week before that, she was asking us to max out. She was asking us to open up our wallets.”

He also said GetEqual was willing to discuss Sturtz’s discussion with the first lady with the black community. But according to Butler, the encounter had “polluted the water” surrounding the issue.

“You really think that this was gonna help you, by yelling at [the president's] wife? Be real,” she said. “You just ruined it. That’s what desperation causes you. I smell desperation all over these people. If Martin Luther King had just gotten up and sent somebody in to start yelling at JFK, do you think the Civil Rights movement would’ve happened?”

[Image via Agence France-Presse]

Arturo Garcia
Arturo Garcia
Arturo R. García is the managing editor at Racialicious.com. He is based in San Diego, California and has written for both print and broadcast media, including contributions to GlobalComment.com, The Root and Comment Is Free. Follow him on Twitter at @ABoyNamedArt
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