Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

Why Michelle Obama got heckled

By LZ Granderson, CNN Contributor
updated 7:02 AM EDT, Thu June 6, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • First lady heckled by "lesbian looking for federal equality before I die"
  • LZ Granderson: Heckling unfair, but president vowed to sign order on federal contractors
  • He says in Illinois, on immigration, Democrats seem to back off from promises to gay community
  • Granderson: Gays and lesbians first ones to be thrown under a bus for political expediency

Editor's note: LZ Granderson, who writes a weekly column for CNN.com, was named journalist of the year by the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association and was a 2011 Online Journalism Award finalist for commentary. He is a senior writer and columnist for ESPN the Magazine and ESPN.com. Follow him on Twitter @locs_n_laughs.

(CNN) -- I'm a big fan of Michelle Obama's, but if she's going to be hitting the circuit to raise money for Democrats, she has to be prepared for heckling. Especially heckling from gay rights activists like the one who interrupted her speech Tuesday night.

"Lesbian looking for federal equality before I die." That's how Ellen Sturtz, the woman identified as the heckler, identified herself.

Apparently the first lady's husband said something about signing an executive order banning federal contractors from discriminating based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

LZ Granderson
LZ Granderson

Sturtz had the nerve to ask the president to keep his word.

And it's not like signing an order will rock Washington's world -- as The Washington Post pointed out, of the "employees of federal contractors that are in the Fortune 1000, 92% are already protected by a company-wide sexual orientation nondiscrimination policy, and 58% are already protected by a gender identity nondiscrimination policy."

Still President Barack Obama made a promise: It's not unreasonable to expect him to keep it.

Especially when one out of every 16 of his "bundlers" -- those who organize super fund-raisers -- during the 2012 election was openly gay. The Washington Post says of his top 2012 bundlers, one in six was gay. And that more than 75% of voters who identified as lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender voted for him. And yet the changes Obama has wrought since he was first elected often feel as if they're being handed out like doggie treats, and not championed with the same urgency that Democrats showed on the campaign trail.

Heckling the first lady wasn't fair because she isn't responsible for policy. But the incident sent a message to those who are responsible: We are people, not pawns.

Michelle Obama has been heckled before
Radio host: You don't heckle first lady
Michelle Obama wades into gun debate
First lady: Victim was just like me

But this is what happens when a bloc of voters -- be it the LGBT community, Latinos, women -- surrenders its voting power to a political party as opposed to a principle. Not all Republicans are anti-gay, not all Democrats are pro, and it's the rare politician who will do something "bold" that isn't politically expedient.

In Illinois, the House of Representatives, controlled 71-47 by Democrats, chose not to vote on same-sex marriage legislation, with some members saying they needed to talk it over with their constituents. A rationale that doesn't hold much water because the Senate passed the bill 34-21 in February. State Sen. Jason Barickman, a Republican, voted in support of same-sex marriage after adding a religious liberty amendment to the bill.

Many activists are pointing fingers at the Illinois House Legislative Black Caucus for not playing ball. This seems ironic, considering the first item under the subject line "What Are They Fighting for?" is civil equality.

State Rep. Ken Dunkin, chairman of the Black Caucus, did not return my calls. But he did tell the Windy City Times that it was unfair to pin the bill's failure on the caucus, adding, "This is not the Black Caucus' burden."

Because lord knows black folks have nothing to do with gay folks, right Ken?

Gregory Angelo, the Log Cabin Republicans' national executive director, told me that "if there's any lesson to learn from this is that Democrats can't pass marriage equality on their own. They need Republican support."

And the LGBT community would be wise to remember that. The Republican Party may house the most vocal, and sometimes offensive, opponents -- but that doesn't mean that all Democrats are proponents or courageous enough to fight. The Senate Republicans in Rhode Island became the first legislative caucus in the country, of either party, to vote unanimously for same-sex marriage.

The truth is the Illinois Democrats promised to bring the bill to a vote and they didn't. It's likely they are stalling to see what the U.S. Supreme Court decides in the two same-sex marriage cases it heard this spring. Decisions are expected later this month. The Illinois House has until August 31 to vote.

This is a little political cover that may be smart but flies in the face of the party's national platform: "We oppose discriminatory federal and state constitutional amendments and other attempts to deny equal protection of the laws to committed same-sex couples who seek the same respect and responsibilities as other married couples."

But Democrats have trampled on that promise before, and fairly recently.

In 2009, Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York said he supported marriage for same-sex couples. But he recently opposed an amendment to the immigration reform bill that would have included same-sex couples because he thought it would make Republicans kill the bill. The Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee didn't even want to vote on it. Basically Schumer wants same-sex couples to get married in his home state -- but if you're binational, he'll let the government deport your spouse.

So the LGBT community gets tossed under the bus -- again -- as if our families are not worth voting for. As if we don't deserve a public record of which Democrat is for us and which is against us.

Heckling Mrs. Obama wasn't fair to her.

But taking the LGBT community for granted isn't fair to us either.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of LZ Granderson.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 5:01 PM EDT, Wed October 22, 2014
Paul Callan says the grand jury is the right process to use to decide if charges should be brought against the police officer
updated 12:19 PM EDT, Thu October 23, 2014
Theresa Brown says the Ebola crisis brought nurses into the national conversation on health care. They need to stay there.
updated 6:35 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Patrick Hornbeck says don't buy the hype: The arguments the Vatican used in its interim report would have virtually guaranteed that same-sex couples remained second class citizens
updated 9:36 AM EDT, Fri October 24, 2014
Paul Begala says Iowa's U.S. Senate candidate, Joni Ernst, told NRA she has right to use gun to defend herself--even from the government. But shooting at officials is not what the Founders had in mind
updated 6:08 PM EDT, Thu October 23, 2014
John Sutter: Why are we so surprised the head of a major international corporation learned another language?
updated 5:54 PM EDT, Thu October 23, 2014
Jason Johnson says Ferguson isn't a downtrodden community rising up against the white oppressor, but it is looking for justice
updated 12:21 PM EDT, Fri October 24, 2014
Sally Kohn says a video of little girls dressed as princesses using the F-word very loudly to condemn sexism is provocative. But is it exploitative?
updated 4:06 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Timothy Stanley says Lewinsky is shamelessly playing the victim in her affair with Bill Clinton, humiliating Hillary Clinton again and aiding her critics
updated 10:14 AM EDT, Thu October 23, 2014
Imagine being rescued from modern slavery, only to be charged with a crime, writes John Sutter
updated 12:00 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Tidal flooding used to be a relatively rare occurrence along the East Coast. Not anymore, write Melanie Fitzpatrick and Erika Spanger-Siegfried.
updated 7:35 AM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Carol Costello says activists, writers, politicians have begun discussing their abortions. But will that new approach make a difference on an old battleground?
updated 9:12 AM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Sigrid Fry-Revere says the National Organ Transplant Act has caused more Americans to die waiting for an organ than died in both World Wars, Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq
updated 2:51 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Crystal Wright says racist remarks like those made by black Republican actress Stacey Dash do nothing to get blacks to join the GOP
updated 6:07 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Mel Robbins says by telling her story, Monica Lewinsky offers a lesson in confronting humiliating mistakes while keeping her head held high
updated 9:29 AM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Cornell Belcher says the story of the "tea party wave" in 2010 was bogus; it was an election determined by ebbing Democratic turnout
updated 4:12 PM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Les Abend says pilots want protocols, preparation and checklists for all contingencies; at the moment, controlling a deadly disease is out of their comfort zone
updated 11:36 PM EDT, Sun October 19, 2014
David Weinberger says an online controversy that snowballed from a misogynist attack by gamers into a culture war is a preview of the way news is handled in a world of hashtag-fueled scandal
updated 8:23 AM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Julian Zelizer says Paul Krugman makes some good points in his defense of President Obama but is premature in calling him one of the most successful presidents.
updated 10:21 PM EDT, Sun October 19, 2014
Conservatives can't bash and slash government and then suddenly act surprised if government isn't there when we need it, writes Sally Kohn
updated 8:05 AM EDT, Wed October 22, 2014
ISIS is looking to take over a good chunk of the Middle East -- if not the entire Muslim world, write Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider.
updated 9:00 AM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
The world's response to Ebola is its own sort of tragedy, writes John Sutter
updated 4:33 PM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
Hidden away in Russian orphanages are thousands of children with disabilities who aren't orphans, whose harmful treatment has long been hidden from public view, writes Andrea Mazzarino
updated 1:22 PM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
When you hear "trick or treat" this year, think "nudge," writes John Bare
updated 12:42 AM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
The more than 200 kidnapped Nigerian schoolgirls have become pawns in a larger drama, writes Richard Joseph.
updated 9:45 AM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
Peggy Drexler said Amal Alamuddin was accused of buying into the patriarchy when she changed her name to Clooney. But that was her choice.
updated 4:43 PM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
Ford Vox says the CDC's Thomas Frieden is a good man with a stellar resume who has shown he lacks the unique talents and vision needed to confront the Ebola crisis
updated 4:58 AM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
How can such a numerically small force as ISIS take control of vast swathes of Syria and Iraq?
updated 9:42 AM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
How big a threat do foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq pose to the West? It's a question that has been much on the mind of policymakers and commentators.
updated 8:21 AM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
More than a quarter-million American women served honorably in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Now they are home, we have an obligation to help them transition back to civilian life.
updated 4:27 PM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
Paul Begala says Rick Scott's deeply weird refusal to begin a debate because rival Charlie Crist had a fan under his podium spells disaster for the Florida governor--delighting Crist
updated 12:07 AM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
The longer we wait to engage on Ebola, the more limited our options will become, says Marco Rubio.
updated 7:53 AM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Democratic candidates who run from President Obama in red states where he is unpopular are making a big mistake, says Donna Brazile
updated 12:29 AM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
At some 7 billion people, the world can sometimes seem like a crowded place. But if the latest estimates are to be believed, then in less than a century it is going to feel even more so -- about 50% more crowded, says Evan Fraser
updated 12:53 PM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Paul Callan says the Ebola situation is pointing up the need for better leadership
updated 6:45 PM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Nurses are the unsung heroes of the Ebola outbreak. Yet, there are troubling signs we're failing them, says John Sutter
updated 1:00 PM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Dean Obeidallah says it's a mistake to give up a business name you've invested energy in, just because of a new terrorist group
updated 7:01 PM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Fear of Ebola is contagious, writes Mel Robbins; but it's time to put the disease in perspective
updated 1:44 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Oliver Kershaw says that if Big Tobacco is given monopoly of e-cigarette products, public health will suffer.
updated 9:35 AM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
Stop thinking your job will make you happy.
updated 10:08 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says it's time to deal with another scandal involving the Secret Service — one that leads directly into the White House.
updated 7:25 AM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Americans who choose to fight for militant groups or support them are young and likely to be active in jihadist social media, says Peter Bergen
updated 9:03 AM EDT, Mon October 13, 2014
Stephanie Coontz says 11 years ago only one state allowed same sex marriage. Soon, some 60% of Americans will live where gays can marry. How did attitudes change so quickly?
updated 4:04 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Legalizing assisted suicide seems acceptable when focusing on individuals. But such laws would put many at risk of immense harm, writes Marilyn Golden.
updated 9:07 AM EDT, Mon October 13, 2014
Julian Zelizer says the issues are huge, but both parties are wrestling with problems that alienate voters
updated 6:50 PM EDT, Mon October 13, 2014
Mel Robbins says the town's school chief was right to cancel the season, but that's just the beginning of what needs to be done
updated 11:43 AM EDT, Sat October 11, 2014
He didn't discover that the world was round, David Perry writes. So what did he do?
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT