June 13, 2013 at 11:27 am EST | by Peter Rosenstein
To heckle, or not to heckle?
Ellen Sturtz, GetEqual, gay news, Washington Blade

Ellen Sturtz proceeded to heckle Michelle Obama at a DNC fundraiser. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

The issue of LGBT rights got lost in the story last week of Michelle Obama being heckled, which unfortunately turned into a charge of racism by some. We must be cognizant of those sensitivities even when the person heckled lives the life, earned by her accomplishments and marriage, of one of the most elite and entitled persons in the world.

The fight for our civil and human rights must proceed intelligently. We fight because 40 percent of homeless youth are LGBT; millions of LGBT citizens still don’t have the right to marry; millions are at risk of losing their jobs; and although “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” has been repealed, gay and lesbian service members still don’t have full and equal rights.

We need to use every tool available to us. That includes lobbying Congress, making our case to the American people and stirring the pot when need be. We must donate to candidates that support us, work on their campaigns and be a part of changing Congress. But the fight will also include civil disobedience. Sit-ins in the office of Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio); chaining people to the White House gate; or other acts that will attract the attention of the people who can make a difference in our lives.

In the discussion of heckling, the right to work issue got lost. What also got lost was Barack Obama’s 2008 promise to the LGBT community that he would work to protect them from workplace discrimination. His promise to sign an executive order providing workplace protections by federal contractors and to help pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), ending workplace discrimination by all employers. People believed him, donated to his campaign, worked and voted for him.

Five years later, the promise that can be fulfilled with his signature hasn’t been. He has supported ENDA legislation but that is something he can’t do alone and the LGBT community hasn’t been able to generate the support in Congress to pass it.

In 2012, LGBT donors and fundraisers for the president and DNC were told “wait until after the election” for him to sign the Executive Order. We raised money and waited. We are still waiting while being asked to give “till it hurts” for the next election cycle. ENDA was introduced in the Senate without all Democrats co-sponsoring and no bill has been introduced in the House. LGBT Americans across the nation often still face staying in the closet or potentially losing their jobs.

So the frustration of those in GetEqual, like heckler Ellen Sturtz, is real. Like those in ACT UP who fought for a response to the HIV/AIDS crisis, they believe there is still a place for civil disruption of the status quo. While not a fan of heckling I was surprised when heckling the first lady blew up into an international story.

A Michelle Obama fan, I respect and thank her for taking up the cause of children. There is nothing more important than ensuring healthy and educated future generations. Two columns particularly disturbed me. Anna Holmes in Time wrote, “Anyone who has been paying attention would have recognized in Sturtz’s outburst a petulance and sense of entitlement that echoes some of the screechiest, bigoted and most resentful critics of the President himself, who have spent the past 6 years questioning Mr. Obama’s and by extension black Americans’ legitimacy to lead, have an opinion, or even exist. (Remember Joe Wilson?)”. Might Holmes reconsider after learning that not only did Sturtz support the president but contributed to his campaign?

Anthea Butler, who teaches a class at the University of Pennsylvania every two years on Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X wrote, “Challenging the wife of the president you hope will sign the bill seems an odd way to effect real change for the LGBT community. Challenge the president, not his wife.” This comment appears to denigrate the first lady, who is both brilliant and involved in the politics of the nation.

While we must respect the feelings and sensitivities of all, we can and must use every tool in our arsenal to secure full civil and human rights for ourselves and future generations of LGBT Americans and their families.

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