Open Arms in Eastern Kentucky

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.” 

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6 Comments

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So nice to see positivity in such an impoverished region.

Oakley is a kind soul and believes everyone has the right to be who they are without fear of being discriminated against. We are very proud and supportive of him. If this film reaches a few and helps them to see others with a kinder and more understanding view then it has been worth all the hard work everyone has put in it.

What a fantastic documentary and story. Changing everyone’s perception of Appalachia’s one story at a time. Well done!!!

Thanks to all of you, making change together- this Made my day!

As someone who was also born and raised in Letcher County, I know how lonely it can be if you're perceived as different. It could even be dangerous if you were the wrong kind of different. The world needs more people like Oakley. He and his friends give me hope for the future, even in places where values are often slow to change.

interested in documenting Puerto Rico Post Maria
particularly sustainable farming and energy projects

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