Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

Hey Justice Scalia, let's be friends

By John D. Sutter, CNN
October 8, 2013 -- Updated 1805 GMT (0205 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia gives a wide-ranging interview to magazine
  • In the interview, Scalia says he doesn't have any openly gay friends
  • John Sutter: Don't blame Scalia, blame all of us, including the gay community
  • Sutter offers his hand in friendship, saying it's a step in "mending two countries into one"

Editor's note: John D. Sutter is a columnist for CNN Opinion and head of CNN's Change the List project. Follow him on Twitter, Facebook or Google+. E-mail him at ctl@cnn.com.

(CNN) -- Dear Justice Scalia,

Like everyone on the Internet, I read with interest your recent interview with New York magazine's Jennifer Senior. Many sections were intriguing, including your firm belief in the existence of the devil and your passing fondness for "Duck Dynasty."

You're a fascinating person.

But one passage troubled me deeply.

John D. Sutter
John D. Sutter

Not because of what they say about you, but because of what they say about me and us and this great country that we call the United States.

It would be easy for me to laugh off the interview -- to write a column with a few "argle-bargle" or "fairyland castle" references. All in a day's work at the digital snark factory, right? More "blurbing things on the Internet," to borrow your words.

I'm not going to do that.

Because when you, the Supreme Court justice who has power over my rights as a gay citizen, said that you "have friends that I know, or very much suspect, are homosexual," but that you don't have any friends who are openly gay, I was at first shocked and then puzzled and then saddened -- both for you and for all of us.

"Have any of them come out to you?" Senior asked.

Your response: "No. No. Not that I know of."

At first that seemed unbelievable. How is it possible to live in 2013 America -- to be one of the most important and powerful people in 2013 America -- and not have any friends who are openly gay? Then I thought about it a little more. I'm gay, but, growing up in Oklahoma, I don't think I was friends with an openly gay person until I left the state, after high school. I've traveled around the country, to places such as Mississippi, where there are still people who aren't sure whether gays exist, much less whether they should befriend them. And I looked into the numbers. You're far from alone.

According to a 2013 Gallup poll, a quarter of Americans said they, like you, do not have "any friends or relatives or coworkers who have told (them), personally, that they are gay or lesbian." Meanwhile, respondents listed having gay and lesbian friends as the fourth most common reason for supporting same-sex marriage.

Many people -- especially the "shrilly liberal" media -- would blame you for not knowing anyone who's openly gay. It would be hard to expect to be accepted by someone who wrote, in 2003, that Americans who don't want gays to work as teachers, business partners or scoutmasters are "protecting themselves and their families from a lifestyle that they believe to be immoral and destructive."

"I would write that again," you said in the New York magazine interview.

That's unfair, and it's a sign you're from another time -- that you need to do more to widen your influences, reading material and social circles.

But I also don't blame you, personally.

I blame all of us, including the gay community.

The U.S. gay rights movement, as I'm sure you know, was founded on the idea that openness creates social and political change. It's easy to see how this is still true in Russia and Uganda, the centers of violent struggle for dignity for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

A transgender Ugandan man, Pepe Julian Onziema, recently wrote for this site that "visibility is magical for those of us who once roamed the land like ghosts."

Until I read your interview, though, I'd forgotten how much this "magical" visibility is needed in modern America. In the age of Anderson Cooper and Ellen DeGeneres, LGBT people have become invisible anew, hiding in plain sight. Either we're afraid to speak up, as was the case with the LGBT people I met in Mississippi, who can be fired from their jobs and evicted from their rental properties for doing so. Or, on the other end of the spectrum, we're demagogues -- screaming so loud we're no longer heard.

At least not by that quarter of America that still doesn't know us.

We've stopped listening, too, and stopped reaching out to the people like you whom we too often see as enemies and bigots -- and not as people.

"We don't know the other side anymore," Dahlia Lithwick wrote for Slate. "We don't even know anyone like the other side anymore. We can't even believe those people exist anymore. And maybe this is really what the devil's been up to."

I agree. And that's why I'm extending my hand in friendship. Not as some gay-hater snare trap, but as a genuine offer to talk through these issues if you'd like.

I'd be honored to be your friend. I promise not to judge you. You, like me, are shaped by your personal experience. I'm sure there are plenty of things we share. I can quote "Seinfeld" and I sometimes question the narcissism of Facebook, too.

All I would ask is that you withhold your judgment of me as well -- and to seek, whether it's from me or one of your closeted gay friends, to understand where we're coming from and why so many of us are offended by your opinions.

I know that will be hard for someone who wears a black robe for a living.

But it's also the first step in mending two countries into one.

Twitter Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this column are solely those of John D. Sutter.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
September 1, 2014 -- Updated 1221 GMT (2021 HKT)
Carlos Moreno says atheists, a sizable fraction of Americans, deserve representation in Congress.
August 31, 2014 -- Updated 1625 GMT (0025 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says Democrats and unions have a long history of mutual support that's on the decline. But in a time of income inequality they need each other more than ever
August 31, 2014 -- Updated 0423 GMT (1223 HKT)
William McRaven
Peter Bergen says Admiral William McRaven leaves the military with a legacy of strategic thinking about special operations
August 29, 2014 -- Updated 1611 GMT (0011 HKT)
Leon Aron says the U.S. and Europe can help get Russia out of Ukraine by helping Ukraine win its just war, sharing defense technologies and intelligence
August 29, 2014 -- Updated 1724 GMT (0124 HKT)
Timothy Stanley the report on widespread child abuse in a British town reveals an institutional betrayal by police, social services and politicians. Negligent officials must face justice
August 30, 2014 -- Updated 0106 GMT (0906 HKT)
Peter Bergen and David Sterman say a new video of an American suicide bomber shows how Turkey's militant networks are key to jihadists' movement into Syria and Iraq. Turkey must stem the flow
September 1, 2014 -- Updated 1554 GMT (2354 HKT)
Whitney Barkley says many for-profit colleges deceive students, charge exorbitant tuitions and make false promises
August 29, 2014 -- Updated 1434 GMT (2234 HKT)
Mark O'Mara says the time has come to decide whether we really want police empowered to shoot those they believe are 'fleeing felons'
August 28, 2014 -- Updated 1432 GMT (2232 HKT)
Bill Frelick says a tool of rights workers is 'naming and shaming,' ensuring accountability for human rights crimes in conflicts. But what if wrongdoers know no shame?
August 29, 2014 -- Updated 0243 GMT (1043 HKT)
Jay Parini says, no, a little girl shouldn't fire an Uzi, but none of should have easy access to guns: The Second Amendment was not written to give us such a 'right,' no matter what the NRA says
August 30, 2014 -- Updated 1722 GMT (0122 HKT)
Terra Ziporyn Snider says many adolescents suffer chronic sleep deprivation, which can indeed lead to safety problems. Would starting school an hour later be so wrong?
August 29, 2014 -- Updated 1330 GMT (2130 HKT)
Peggy Drexler says after all the celebrity divorces, it's tempting to ask the question. But there are still considerable benefits to getting hitched
August 29, 2014 -- Updated 1849 GMT (0249 HKT)
The death of Douglas McAuthur McCain, the first American killed fighting for ISIS, highlights the pull of Syria's war for Western jihadists, writes Peter Bergen.
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 2242 GMT (0642 HKT)
Former ambassador to Syria Robert Ford says the West should be helping moderates in the Syrian armed opposition end the al-Assad regime and form a government to focus on driving ISIS out
August 27, 2014 -- Updated 1321 GMT (2121 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says a great country does not deport thousands of vulnerable, unaccompanied minors who fled in fear for their lives
August 27, 2014 -- Updated 1319 GMT (2119 HKT)
Robert McIntyre says Congress is the culprit for letting Burger King pay lower taxes after merging with Tim Hortons.
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 2335 GMT (0735 HKT)
Wesley Clark says the U.S. can offer support to its Islamic friends in the region most threatened by ISIS, but it can't fight their war
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 2053 GMT (0453 HKT)
America's painful struggle with racism has often brought great satisfaction to the country's rivals, critics, and foes. The killing of Michael Brown and its tumultuous aftermath has been a bonanza.
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 1919 GMT (0319 HKT)
Rick Martin says the death of Robin Williams brought back memories of his own battle facing down depression as a young man
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 1558 GMT (2358 HKT)
David Perry asks: What's the best way for police officers to handle people with psychiatric disabilities?
August 25, 2014 -- Updated 1950 GMT (0350 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says it's not crazy to think Mitt Romney would be able to end up at the top of the GOP ticket in 2016
August 25, 2014 -- Updated 2052 GMT (0452 HKT)
Roxanne Jones and her girlfriends would cheer from the sidelines for the boys playing Little League. But they really wanted to play. Now Mo'ne Davis shows the world that girls really can throw.
August 25, 2014 -- Updated 2104 GMT (0504 HKT)
Kimberly Norwood is a black mom who lives in an affluent neighborhood not far from Ferguson, but she has the same fears for her children as people in that troubled town do
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 2145 GMT (0545 HKT)
It apparently has worked for France, say Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider, but carries uncomfortable risks. When it comes to kidnappings, nations face grim options.
ADVERTISEMENT