Open Arms in Eastern Kentucky
By Zachary Turk & Emily Grubb
For decades, Eastern Kentucky has been depicted through the narrow lens of coal mining, rural poverty, and perceived homogeneity. But the true nature of this Appalachian region—and its people—is far more complex.
Oakley Fugate, a 24-year-old in Whitesburg, is a case in point. A 2017 Open Society Community Youth Fellow, Fugate uses documentary filmmaking to give a voice to LGBTI youth and provide a more nuanced portrait of his home. Together with other youth with shared experiences of intolerance and exclusion, he launched a safe space where people are free to be their whole selves, without fear of judgment.
Fugate serves as an example of how young Americans are stepping up to promote dialogue, inclusion, and solidarity, leading the way toward kinder societies. His work challenges the dominant and damaging narratives about those who live in Eastern Kentucky and defies misconceptions of what can be accomplished by those considered different.
In this video, Fugate explains what drives him. As he puts it, “If you want to be who you’ve got to be, there are times when you’ve got to fight for it.”
Zack is a program officer for the Youth Exchange.
Until August 2019, Emily Grubb was a program specialist at the Open Society Foundations.