Top Menu

Queer Talk: Ellen Sturtz – “Why I Confronted the First Lady”

EllenSturtzViaEllenSturtzFB

Ellen Sturtz, the lesbian who confronted the First Lady, Michelle Obama, at a Democratic National Committee fundraiser, reportedly held at the home of a lesbian couple, has written “Why I Confronted the First Lady,” in the Washington Post. Sturtz has received everything from angry criticism – and the use of the word “heckler” plays a significant role in that – to appreciation. I suggest reading her entire WaPo piece, but a few selections are below.

For some background, see earlier posts, Michelle Obama Confronts GetEqual LGBT Activist and Which is Worse? Heckler Rudeness or POTUS Failure to Act.

From the post by Sturtz, “Why I Confronted the First Lady,” she writes about 2008 candidate Barack Obama.

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) … . 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.

Whatever you think of the confrontation, or heckling, the “I’m still waiting” reality is something with which millions of us can identify. That reality might be experienced with a particular kind of urgency, and sometimes exhaustion, by those of us who have been waiting for decades.

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 writes about a “sense of urgency” as related to her confrontation, or heckling, of Michelle Obama.

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.

The criticisms of her “blurted out” comments have largely been around Michelle Obama and who she is, the First Lady, not an “elected official.”

However, time and again, the first lady has come to our community and asked us to ‘max out’ on our contributions to the DNC. In fact, she had just made the same request of several hundred LGBT attendees, days after Senate Democrats had refused to include same-sex binational couples in their immigration reform bill.

Sturtz then turns to the importance of workplace protections, and I think she captures it very well. Obviously these are generalities. Some have it much easier, some much worse. But this is the basic, fundamental reality: LGBTQ people have no federal protections in the workplace. Some states, more local governments, and a growing number of employers, do include sexual orientation and gender identity in their employment non-discrimination laws and policies. But the absence of federal protection is a huge factor. The fact that apparently large numbers of people think we of Queerdom do have such protections is actually a part of the problem.

Here’s how Sturtz writes about it: (emphasis added)

It is in small moments each day that LGBT Americans have to make choices about whether to acknowledge the truth of our own lives or hide ourselves away. We make choices about displaying family photos on a desk, or eating lunch alone to avoid questions about weekend plans … . And it is in these moments that low-income LGBT Americans must choose between their humanity and a paycheck — knowing that making ends meet often means slowly chipping away at one’s identity.

For many LGBTQ’s, such actions are no longer necessary. For many, they are as vital as ever. Recalling the moment she first interrupted Obama, Sturtz writes:

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.

My obviously unsolicited suggestion to Barack and Michelle Obama: Change the focus from “heckling.” Seize this moment to move ENDA forward. Mr. Obama, sign the executive order. Ms. Obama, meet with Sturtz, with Freedom to Work; with other LGBT organizations, and probably more importantly, with individuals and families who can tell you what working without protections is like. And for those of a certain generation or so, about what it’s like to wait. And wait. And wait. And while waiting, to fairly often be told to be patient, polite and better yet, quiet.

(Ellen Sturtz via Ellen Sturtz FB)

, , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

5 Responses to Queer Talk: Ellen Sturtz – “Why I Confronted the First Lady”

  1. ladywalker68 June 8, 2013 at 11:43 am #

    Thanks for the follow-up on this, Joyce. Adding to the weight of those daily life altering decisions Sturtz so eloquently articulates, I can only imagine the frustration of constantly being hit up for contributions, when the prior promises made to suck funds out of loyal supporters remain unfulfilled well into a second term.

    • Joyce Arnold June 8, 2013 at 4:26 pm #

      Hey ladywalker, I’m glad you’re following this story. Mostly, I really thought hearing from Sturtz was important. A lot of speculation and guesses — both pro and con — in terms of her speaking out, have been made. Whether one agrees with “heckling” or not, she’s pointing out something lots of us live with every day.

  2. Cujo359 June 8, 2013 at 2:16 pm #

    “Change the focus from “heckling.” Seize this moment to move ENDA forward. Mr. Obama, sign the executive order.”

    What? Give in to heckling? Never!

    Oh, and don’t forget to keep those donations coming…

    • ladywalker68 June 8, 2013 at 2:39 pm #

      Exactly!

    • Joyce Arnold June 8, 2013 at 4:27 pm #

      I know, but occasionally I venture into fantasy land, just to take a break … :)

.... a writer is someone who takes the universal whore of language
and turns her into a virgin again.  ~ erica jong