‘Fagbug’ rolls on to campus
Mackenzie Hurlbert – General Assignment Report –
“I just remember seeing the color red,” said Erin Davies, recalling the moment she discovered her VW Beetle was vandalized because of a rainbow sticker on its back window. The words “U R Gay” and “Fag” were spray painted across her car’s hood and window, and considering Davies came out at the age of 17 and the vandalism took place during grad school, the attack seemed random and pointless.
Davies’ initial response to the “U R Gay” statement was “No sh*t, thank you for stating the obvious,” while the word “Fag” scrawled on the window didn’t seem relevant to her. “I have never identified with that word,” Davies said. Her first response was to get rid of it, fix it. “The only reason why I didn’t fix it was because my insurance company was backed up and I had to wait five days.”
The day after the vandalism, Davies parked her car near the university, but was asked to remove it due to multiple complaints about the vandalism being associated with the university and the obscene language. “Homophobia’s the problem,” said Davies when thinking back to the university’s response to her car. “But homophobia’s not just my problem, that day I decided it’s everyone’s.”
This vandalism took place in Albany, New York, and while the culprit is still unknown, the spray painted hate was the catalyst for Davies’ nationwide journey to spread awareness of homophobia and hate crimes. Instead of removing the words from her car, Davies decided to keep them on for a year as she traveled across the U.S. by herself, stirring up both positive and negative responses. She filmed her experience along the way and created the Fagbug Documentary, an 83-minute film documenting her trip and multiple interviews with people who wanted to share their opinion of Davies’ mission or the vandalism of her car. In total, it took 19 months, working 16 hours a day to complete the film, and then it took an additional four years to get it on Netflix.
“It’s really nice that it’s out there and people can be impacted by it,” Davies said.
“It sort of turned into a lot more than I had planned,” said Davies as she addressed a crowd of Southern students last Monday night in the Adanti Student Center Theatre. “I never had any idea this’d create such a buzz. This is just my own creative way and response to show how I deal with this.” Previously, she described this response as “the idea that art and life becomes one.”
Davies showed an eight-minute clip of the documentary that included stops in Los Angeles and Las Vegas.
Within the clip, the audience saw how people tried to clean the paint off of Davies’ window. Some tried to use soap, others razor blades, but Davies left the words on her car on purpose.
“People just kept trying to take it off,” she said.
The audience saw how both heterosexuals and homosexuals supported Davies’ mission. For example, support ranged from a Volkswagen dealer who wanted to make sure she was “well-equipped” for her journey, to the support of a Las Vegas Fagbug caravan. “Every place I went, I had somebody doing something to help me out,” said Davies.
Throughout this journey, Davies was asked to move her car multiple times and faced negative responses by both the gay and straight communities. In fact, Davies said 99% of the negative feedback came from homosexuals. “It wasn’t what I expected,” said Davies about this response. “I assumed the gay community would support me.”
Part of this feedback was the assumption and belief that Davies was using this as a publicity stunt, and some people even accused her of originally graffiti-ing her own car in order to get attention. Davies did in fact repaint “Fag” on her window after somebody removed the word with a razorblade a month into her trip. She referred to pictures and what was left of the original word on her window in order to recreate the spray paint accurately; and she repainted it because she wasn’t going to let people’s discomfort with that word stop her from spreading awareness of homophobia. What if every month somebody removed the word from my window? Would I let that stop me? Davies asked herself. The answer was apparently “No.”
Another negative response occurred in Florida after the trip was over and she started editing the documentary. Somebody threw a concrete block through the living room window of where she was staying. But for each of those 15 negative events, there were 15,000 positive ones, Davies said.
“My favorite part hands down is receiving hand-written notes on my car,” said Davies. “I’ve gotten 267 notes for four and a half years. Four or five have been negative.” Davies shared a couple of her favorite notes with the Southern audience along with some funny interview stories. “Everybody in the film came up and initiated conversation with me,” said Davies as she told the audience about how her interactions with people on her trip challenged her and others to see beyond the stereotypes and find a way to relate. “The biggest obstacle in completing this film was the lack of money and my own fears,” Davies said.
“I’ve had to go very far outside of my comfort zone for this project.”
Along with notes, Davies receives emails from fans and critics, and she replies to each and every one of them. While occasionally there are a few negative emails, most are supportive of Davies and her mission. “I’ve replied to over 40,000 emails over the past few years,” said Davies, who has repainted her car since the trip and now sports a rainbow striped beetle with “Fagbug” written on the side. This new paint job has caused different responses than the original vandalism did. People felt sorry for her beforehand because she was victimized; now that she did this to her own car, the responses have changed, but her mission hasn’t. “I’m not trying to change anyone’s views. Everyone has a right to their own opinion,” said Davies, whose mission isn’t to make people ‘love’ homosexuality, but to get people to respect homosexuals and to end hate crime or discrimination.
Diane Brown-Albert, coordinator of the Multicultural Center, was one of the main organizers of this event along with Faculty Development Associate Jennifer Hudson. “We didn’t get any problems whatsoever,” said Brown-Albert. “Campus police were very supportive.”
The car had been on display earlier that day in the academic quad. “A lot of students definitely stopped to take pictures,” Brown-Albert said.
Senior psychology major Nate Blanchette attended the event on Oct. 15 because he was interested in Davies’ story. “I’m very active in the LGBT community and this is the first time I’ve ever heard of this and I want to know more about it,” Blanchette said, who has a friend whose car was similarly vandalized. Blanchette wants to work with the LGBT community once he gets his degree in psychology, and he found Davies’ story inspirational. “It was awesome. It spreads awareness of hate and discrimination. What she did was very important.”
Jennifer Hudson helped organize the event on behalf of Faculty Development, but she is also an organizer for the LGBTQI faculty-staff alliance. “We’ve got a core group of probably around 10 people,” said Hudson. “We meet once a month; it’s just a safe-zone space.” These events usually consist of a potluck where faculty and staff can share their experiences.