June 06, 2013

Transgressive Dissent

A few days ago, the First Lady was interrupted by a heckler at a private DNC fundraiser at a Washington, D.C. residence. The heckler, Ellen Sturz, is a LGBT activist who was protesting the fact that the President has not signed an executive order banning discrimination against LGBT people by Federal contractors.

I don't like public rudeness and I would have been uncomfortable with Ms. Sturz behavior had I been there. That being said, I understand from Ms. Sturz's reports that Mrs. Obama confronted her physically, getting three inches from her face. As we praise Mrs. Obama for her firmness are we actually saying that she has set the new example for how hecklers should be handled? Should speakers bodily confront rude audience members?

Additionally, with Mrs. Obama offering no sympathy to the concerns being raised by the heckler, she leaves the impression, unfair or not, that she has no sympathy with the heckler's concerns. As a gay man, I'm really asking myself now -- "Gee, how supportive is Mrs. Obama regarding my equality?"

While I am sympathetic to Mrs. Obama's situation and how frustrated she may have been, I just can't say that she handled this situation well.

Finally, the point that bothers me most about the almost unanimous support for Mrs. Obama's reaction is the implicit disapproval therein of all forms of dissent that can be characterized as 'rude.' Are we now against all sit-ins, marches, shouting, picket lines, and protests of any kind that can be deemed obnoxious or transgressive? I hope not. Sometimes the 'proper' avenues for expressing our opinions are wired shut and we need to allow for 'improper' avenues as a fallback option.