“Pride Month” is only in its 5th day and so far LGBT members of the community are facing a plethora of negative media attention in regards to an LGBT activist hurling a slew of outbursts towards the First Lady on Tuesday.
First Lady Michelle Obama was interrupted by an LGBT activist during a private Democratic fundraiser event Tuesday evening. Ellen Sturtz, the 56 year old divorced lesbian member of the LGBT organization Get Equal, was asked to leave by the First Lady after she made several outbursts pertaining to the passing of an executive order to end employment discrimination for federally employed LGBT individuals. Get Equal claims that their organization has been working extensively towards advocating for a bill to protect approximately 20% of LGBT people in the workforce and that their hecklers are credited for the repeal of the highly controversial Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy.
Sturtz’s long and unforgettable spiel criticized Michelle Obama’s lack of urgency regarding the passing of a bill to protect LGBT individuals from workplace discrimination. The New York Times claims that “at the front of a crowd of about 200 people began shouting for President Obama to issue an executive order barring federal contractors from discriminating against employees based on sexual orientation or gender identity.” Following Sturtz’s unexpected outburst, Michelle Obama said, “One of the things I don’t do well is this.”
Mrs. Obama gave the crowd an ultimatum and said” listen to me or you can take the mic, but I’m leaving.” Then, she turned to the crowd and stated, “You all decide. You have one choice.” After First Lady Michelle Obama threatened to leave the event, audience members showed their support for the First Lady and somehow convinced her to stay. When Ellen Sturtz was prompted to leave the event, Sturtz did not want to give up the floor and exclaimed she was a “lesbian looking for federal equality before I die.” The Washington Post interviewed Ellen Sturtz after she was escorted out of the event. “She [Michelle Obama] came right down in my face,” said Sturtz “I was taken aback.”
Though I concede that the issue of workplace discrimination is very important for LGBT individuals considering only 16 states have workplace discrimination laws inclusive to LGBT people , I still insist that the narrative surrounding Michelle Obama’s encounter with the heckler parallels with the way society stereotypically describes a Black woman in distress: angry, choleric, and full of attitude.
Unfortunately, African-American women are depicted by society in oftentimes one-dimensional spheres that only allow women of color to be related to by means of stereotypical “evidence”. Interestingly enough, the vocabulary used to describe Mrs. Obama’s confrontation with the heckler is highly embracive of traditionally-stigmatizing speech. Even the LGBT advocacy organization Get Equal describes Mrs. Obama as “aggressive, angry, and dismissive”. Again, because America has a long history of marginalizing subjugated groups, this one-dimensional description of the First Lady almost becomes regarded as a fact. Nowhere in the media’s description did they reveal the extensive work done by the Obama Administration to advance the rights of LGBT individuals. In fact, revealing how the Obama’s support the LGBT community would thwart the depthless depiction of the dispute and take away from the fascinating nature the “angry black woman” has in the media.
Personally, I believe Michelle Obama handled the situation to the best of her ability. The media depicts the First Lady as being combative and overly abrasive, however, she is in a position of authority therefore she needs to be assertive in order to reestablish control over the already emotionally stirred crowd. Indeed, it is highly likely that Congress and the media will divert their attention to the currently pressing issues facing the LGBT community, more specifically, the implementation for the protection of LGBT members of the workforce. But Get Equal and other media outlets are wrong for pigeonholing Michelle Obama into the one-dimensional, stereotypical jargon suggestive of the “Angry Black Woman” narrative.
The 21st Century prides itself of being a post-racial society, but we are constantly faced with the fundamental ignorance regarding race relations in America. Society has significantly improved their laws and opportunities for not only Blacks, but other minorities, yet we are still combatting outdated portrayals of African-American women. If America continues to turn a blind eye to speech reminiscent of discriminatory portrayals of women of color, then I forecast that other members of subjugated groups will be unable to escape pejorative statements too.
The recorded audio from the dispute is featured in the video below.