- Erin Davies in front of her vandalized car.
On April 18 of last year, Russell Sage graduate student Erin Davies’s VW Beetle was vandalized while parked in Albany. The words “Fag” and “U R Gay” were spray-painted on the hood and driver’s side of her car. (Davies is gay and sports a rainbow sticker on her car; the incident occurred on the 11th annual National Day of Silence.) Instead of erasing evidence of the hate crime, Davies chose to use the attack as a springboard for teaching tolerance, and went on a 58-day cross-country trip, meeting people along the way and filming her experiences. Davies’ is currently in the process of editing down the 100 hours of footage she filmed, made possible in part by a $10,000 grant from Volkswagen USA. In late April, Davies had her car repainted as one resplendent rainbow sticker. Once the film of her experience is complete, Davies will tour the film festival circuit in the new incarnation of Fagbug. To keep up with Davies’s latest events and updates, visit www.fagbug.com
Why didn’t you clean the slurs off your car right away?
My insurance company told me I had to wait five days until they could get someone to come out and give me a quote. I wanted nothing to do with my car at first. But the day it happened, I was on my way to my part-time job. I attempted to drive it. People on the street were pointing and staring at me, and even laughing. I ran home and got another ride to work. I then got a rental and drove it for two days, but people stopped me to discuss what happened to my car. It became something that I couldn’t escape, so I eventually decided to embrace it.
When did you decide to embark on a cross-country journey?
Two days after the incident, I drove my car to school and parked it in front of the Admissions building [on the Russell Sage campus]. Within an hour, over 50 phone calls were made to Public Safety and I was asked to move my car. I refused because I was on a public street. I got on the news that day and said I was going to drive it for one week to raise awareness, but a week turned into a year. The following day, a friend of mine from Baltimore called me and asked if I was okay after hearing what happened to my car. I told him about the huge reaction my school had and right away he had a vision for it. He said, “It’s great you got on the news to raise awareness, but if you take it off now, the whole thing will be forgotten and no one will care about it. You need to have the guts to drive it,” he said, “to leave it on and take it all around the country and document the response.” He bought me a website: Fagbug.com.
Were there places where you felt that you were not welcome?
I felt scared at various points during my journey. A rock was thrown in my back window and the living room window of where I was living in Tampa, Florida. When that happened, all the neighbors told me I wasn’t doing anything good for the GLBT community and that I should just get my car fixed. The woman I lived with at the time told me I had to cover my car up and get a car cover. I bought one out of fear but ended up throwing it away because it goes against what Fagbug is about.
Your style is one of polite confrontation. When people call you names, instead of responding with fear or anger, you somehow befriend them. How do you accomplish this?
I’ve tried to take a peaceful approach to Fagbug. Lots of people say they’d shoot the person who did this or knock their skull open with a baseball bat. Driving my car as it is and sharing my story are enough. It totally goes against what the person who vandalized my car intended. Rather than bring me down, I’m using it as a means of empowerment for myself and others. The further I can take this, the more I hope what I’m doing reaches that person and makes them think twice the next time they have a spray-paint can in their hand. Also I doubt they knew who I was by writing fag on my car and I hope when the film gets done they actually watch it and learn a thing or two about me as a person so this can go from a faceless crime to someone they actually get to know and feel some sort of guilt. I’m a real person just like them. I hope one day whoever does it comes forward. I’d love to interview them. I would not press charges; I’d just like the chance to sit down and talk to them.