Last night, depending on the news reporting you happen upon, GetEQUAL heckled Michelle Obama and got tossed out of a fundraiser, or a social justice group advocating for LGBT people and an executive order on ENDA challenged the First Lady who was aggressive, angry, and dismissive.
So what really happened last night at the DNC fundraiser?
First, some quick background.
GetEQUAL has been working to get President Obama to sign an executive order essentially mandating ENDA for all who work for federal government contractors. This would cover over 20 percent of the U.S. workforce. Since Congress refuses to pass ENDA, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act — which has been introduced into every Congress but one since 1994, and similar legislation before that since 1974 — the President could protect some Americans “with a stroke of his pen,” but he has refused to do so. In fact, the White House when this issue was heating up over a year ago, specifically stated the President would not sign the order, and refused to state why, but finally promised to convene a study group an report back.
So, last night, GetEQUAL did what they do best: draw attention to an issue in an uncomfortable way for the White House. Uncomfortable for the administration, very effective for the LGBT community.
This is how Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell got repealed.
Amanda Terkel, who was at the event, reports at The Huffington Post:
About 12 minutes into Obama’s 20-minute speech, a woman standing at the front of the crowd began yelling for an executive order on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights.
“One of the things that I don’t do well is this,” replied Obama to loud applause. She left the lectern and approached the protester, inviting the woman to “listen to me, or you can take the mic, but I’m leaving. You all decide. You have one choice.”
The crowd shouted that they wanted Obama to stay, and one woman near the protester said, “You need to go!”
The protester was then escorted out, saying she wanted “federal equality before I die.”
Heather Cronk, co-director of the pro-LGBT rights group GetEQUAL, said the protester was Ellen Sturtz, 56, one of the organization’s activists.
In an interview later with The Huffington Post, Sturtz, a divorced lesbian, said she didn’t go to the event intending to interrupt Obama. She said she instead planned to reach out to someone from the DNC about her concerns. But as the first lady urged the audience to make the country a better place for the next generation, Sturtz said she decided to speak up.
“I want to talk about the children,” she said. “I want to talk about the LGBT young people who are … being told, directly and indirectly, that they’re second-class citizens. I’m tired of it. They’re suffering. … We’ve been asking president to sign that ENDA executive order for five years. How much longer do we need to wait?”
Sturtz donated to the DNC in 2008, she said, in large part because she believed the president would fight to end workplace discrimination. She said she was disappointed in the first lady’s response at the fundraiser.
“Basically, I was asked by the first lady to be quiet, and I can’t be quiet any longer. … I was surprised by how negative the crowd seemed to be. It was actually a little unsettling and disturbing,” said Sturtz.
“She obviously thought she was going to make an example of me or something. I wasn’t scared at all,” she added.
Cronk said there were three other GetEQUAL activists at the event.
One was Autumn Leaf, 22, who interrupted DNC Chair Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s (D-Fla.) speech beforehand, also calling for the executive order.
Leaf said Wasserman Schultz replied that the way to get ENDA passed was to help Democrats retake the House.
He said he was “disappointed” in Obama’s reaction to Sturtz and surprised she “approached Ellen as aggressively as she did.”
GetEQUAL issued a press release. Here’s an excerpt:
Activists interacted with the First Lady tonight after lobbying President Obama directly over the past year to sign the federal contractor Executive Order. The First Lady employed similar tactics when she was a law student, advocating for causes close to her heart: http://www.thedailybeast.com/newsweek/2008/02/16/barack-s-rock.html.
One year ago a similar event was held by the DNC and — following vocal frustration from the LGBT community about delays from the Obama Administration on the Executive Order — DNC Treasurer Andy Tobias suggested that advocates wait a year to push for it (http://www.advocate.com/politics/commentary/2012/04/24/oped-choosing-safest-path-enda). That year has come and gone, and the Executive Order has still not emerged as a priority for the Obama Administration.
Recent research has found that LGBT workers have a difficult time finding and keeping a job because there are no federal protections in place to ensure that employers cannot discriminate in the hiring, employment, and firing process: http://lgbtmap.org/a-broken-bargain-full-report. Because the Obama Administration has refused to take action on an Executive Order that would help address these problems, some LGBT donors have cut off funds to the party in recent weeks: http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/05/29/us-usa-immigration-gays-idUSBRE94S1H620130529.
Here’s the audio, albeit hard to hear, via the Washington Post:
So, what do you think?
Image, top via Flickr
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