Timothy Kurek was a “Bible-banging homophobe” raised by conservative parents in a strict Christian household in Tennessee, where he was taught that homosexuality was a sin and gay people were not “normal.”
In 2009, a friend of his came out as a lesbian. Kurek witnessed firsthand the pain she experienced after her family disowned her and, as a result, began to question his own faith. He wondered if perhaps he should try “walking in the shoes of the other” in order to gain what he refers to as “intentional empathy.” So he decided to try a little experiment: He pretended to be gay for a year.
Kurek recently gave a TEDx talk at the University of the Aegean in Greece about the eye-opening experience.
After “coming out,” Kurek says what shocked him most was not the judgment he received from friends and family, but rather their flat-out rejection of him, which left him feeling isolated and alone.
“Overnight I ceased to exist,” Kurek said during the speech. “The vast majority of my community closed their doors on me that day, and it felt as though I had died.”
He spent the next 365 days immersing himself in his local gay community: going to gay bars, joining a gay and lesbian softball team, volunteering at Pride, and even working as a barista in the coffee shop of a gay bookstore. Over time, he began to understand how labels can have a “ruthless effectiveness in separating us from the other.”
But the moment that really changed his perspective was when he found himself at a karaoke event outside an LGBT community center and a drag queen busted out a “praise song” he knew from church.
“Never in a million years did I think, as a straight Christian under cover in the gay community of Nashville, that I would hear that song, because I was taught to believe that gay people were Godless,” Kurek said. “Yet there I stood, the ‘normal’ of my past life confronting the same ‘normal’ in a completely different community.”
That praise song was followed by another, and then another. Soon Kurek witnessed, “one of the most intense worship sessions that I had ever heard.”
He became overwhelmed with a “deep and profound sense of shame,” as he realized that all his life he had believed a “vicious and ignorant stereotype that separated me from my neighbor.”
“My ‘normal’ and other people’s ‘normal’,” Kurek observed, “are not all that different.”
Watch Kurek’s powerful speech below.
h/t: Gay Star News