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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.

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

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