WASHINGTON -- First Lady Michelle Obama's speech Tuesday evening at a private Democratic National Committee fundraiser was interrupted by a protester, who demanded equality for gays and lesbians.
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.
Sturtz was calling for an executive order to bar discrimination by federal contractors based on sexual orientation or gender identity. LGBT groups have been disappointed that President Barack Obama has refused to issue such an order, while the Employment Non-Discrimination Act -- which would prohibit such discrimination in hiring more broadly -- remains stuck in Congress.
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."
The DNC fundraiser on Tuesday took place in the backyard of the home of donors Karen Dixon and Nan Schaffer in Washington. Tickets for the event ranged from $500 to $10,000, according to a DNC official, although Cronk said there was also a $100 student/young professional rate that several of the GetEQUAL activists qualified for.
Obama's main thrust in her speech was to urge donors to stay engaged and back the president's agenda, even though there's no presidential election coming up.
"That is why it is simply not enough to just elect a president every four years," she said. "We need you to be engaged in every election -- every election -- because special elections matter. Mid-term elections really matter. It matters who we send to Congress. It matters. And if you don't believe me, just look at the record. Look at the difference just a few votes in Congress can make when it comes to the issues that we say we care about."
This article has been updated with additional information.
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Michelle Obama: 2009-Present
<strong>Known for: </strong>Current first lady Michelle Obama, an Ivy League-educated lawyer who refers to herself as the "mom in chief," has been focused on health care reform and issues affecting women and families, -- particularly those in the military. <strong>Click through for more on past first ladies.</strong> (Mandel Ngan, AFP/Getty Images)
Laura Bush: 2001-2009
<strong>Known for:</strong> The former librarian made literacy her crusade as first lady, championing various initiatives to promote global literacy, particularly among women and children. In her final year in the White House, she pushed for human rights in Cuba and Myanmar. (Charles Dharapak, AP)
Hillary Rodham Clinton: 1993-2001
<strong>Known for:</strong> The wife of President Bill Clinton redefined the role of first lady. She moved the first lady's office to the heart of power in the West Wing and headed up a project to reform the nation's health care system. The plan died in Congress but she remained an integral part of her husband's administration. She later became a New York senator and launched a historical campaign for the presidency. (Paul J. Richards, AFP/Getty Images)
Barbara Bush: 1989-1993
<strong>Known for: </strong>Like her daughter-in-law, Barbara Bush's cause as first lady was literacy. The wife of President George H.W. Bush also worked with the White House Historical Association and the White House Preservation Fund, which she renamed the White House Endowment Trust. (Bob Daemmrich, AFP/Getty Images)
Nancy Reagan: 1981-1989
<strong>Known for: </strong>The wife of Ronald Reagan focused much of her time in the White House spotlighting Americans in the arts. She also famously spearheaded a campaign to teach children to "just say no" to drugs and alcohol. (Dirck Halstead, Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images)
Rosalynn Carter: 1977-1981
<strong>Known for:</strong> The wife of President Jimmy Carter took an active role in her husband's administration, sitting in on Cabinet meetings and representing him in meetings with domestic and world leaders. She also urged efforts to alleviate the Cambodian refugee crisis in 1979. (AP)
Betty Ford: 1974-1977
<strong>Known for</strong>: The wife of President Gerald Ford was known for her candid nature, particularly when it came to her own struggles. She was outspoken about her battle with breast cancer while in the White House and, after her husband had left office, about her substance abuse. She also pushed for the Equal Rights Amendment and the legalization of abortion. (AP)
Pat Nixon: 1969- 1974
<strong>Known for:</strong> The wife of President Richard Nixon used her role as first lady to promote volunteer service, which she called "the spirit of people helping people." She accompanied her husband on a historic visit to China and the summit meetings in the Soviet Union. (John Dominis, Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images)
Lady Bird Johnson: 1963-1969
<strong>Known for: </strong>The wife of President Lyndon B. Johnson promoted beautification of the nation's cities and highways and conservation of natural resources. She also developed the modern structure of the first lady's office and was the first to have a press secretary and chief of staff of her own. (Robert Knudsen, LBJ Library/AP)
Jacqueline Kennedy: 1961-1963
<strong>Known for:</strong> The wife of President John F. Kennedy was a style icon who brought charm and elegance to the White House. She championed the arts and historic preservation, making the White House a museum of American history. She became a model of stoic grace in the wake of her husband's assassination. (AP)
Eleanor Roosevelt: 1933-1945
<strong>Known for:</strong> As an eloquent and accomplished advocate of human and women's rights, Mrs. Roosevelt became one of the most influential and revered women of her generation. The wife of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt was the first first lady to hold news conferences. She hosted a weekly radio show and wrote daily newspaper and monthly magazine columns. (Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
Mary Todd Lincoln: 1861-1865
<strong>Known for:</strong> The wife of Abraham Lincoln worked as a volunteer nurse in Union hospitals and offered advice to her husband on military personnel, but she mostly entertained to foster Union morale. Still, much of her family's allegiance to the Confederacy led some Northerners to question her loyalty and character. (Library of Congress)
Dolley Madison: 1809-1817
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Abigail Adams: 1797-1801
<strong>Known for: </strong>The wife of President John Adams and the mother of President John Quincy Adams, she took an active role in politics and policy. In letters to her husband during the Continental Congresses, she argued that creating a new form of government presented an opportunity to grant women equal legal status to men. The letters became some of the earliest known writings calling for women's rights. (Stock Montage/Getty Images)
Martha Washington: 1789-1797
<strong>Known for:</strong> The wife of President George Washington did not enjoy her years as the nation's first first lady, once likening the role to being a "prisoner." Nonetheless she focused on her public role as hostess, setting many of the standards for the proper behavior of the president's wife. She was known as "Lady Washington." (Stock Montage/Getty Images) <br> <em>Sources: USA Today, FirstLadies.org, WhiteHouse.gov, www.vcdh.virginia.edu</em>