The following post comes from Erin Davies, owner of the fagbug. Long-time readers may recall that The Sin City Siren’s first community project was bringing Davies to Las Vegas as part of her 41-state, cross-country trip to talk about homophobia and hate crimes.
Gay Filmmaker Gets Death Threat on SUNY Campus
By Erin Davies
In Albany, New York, April 18, 2007 Erin Davies’ Volkswagen Beetle had “fag” and “u r gay” spray painted on the driver’s side window and hood of her car for sporting a long skinny rainbow sticker on the back window. Erin processed this attack creatively, with spunk and resolve. Although she felt embarrassed by what happened, she committed to leaving the graffiti on her car for 365 days and had a plan to document all that came her way, both good and bad. As part of that plan, Erin embarked on a 58-day road-trip around the United States by herself in her car now known worldwide as the fagbug.
Erin made it through the year with the graffiti on her car, discovering other more serious hate crimes, having people attempt to remove the graffiti from her car 17 times, she received 18 anonymous notes on her car, visited 41 states, traveled 55,000 miles, and also experimented with having a male drive her car to document the different reactions a man would get driving with fag versus a woman. Erin didn’t decide to celebrate the year anniversary of her car getting vandalized, but instead celebrates the anniversary of her decision to drive with the graffiti two days after the vandalism.
Since Erin’s car was vandalized because she had a rainbow sticker on her car, rather than remove it she created her own fagbug stickers and other catchy merchandise. She even has her own toy rainbow bug action figure. April 20, 2008 Erin decided to celebrate in bold fashion by turning her car into her fagbug sticker, literally. Volkswagen of America paid for the rainbow striped vinyl wrap that has fagbug in large letters on both sides along with the website fagbug.com.
“It’s the gayest car in the universe. People always gawk and stare or smile and laugh. The car is the most photographed car in the world. I always think what have you never seen a rainbow bug with fagbug on it? I guess mines the only one!” says Erin.
Her film Fagbug was voted Best Gay Car Movie of the Year by Vanity Fair, was an official selection of over 30 film festivals, and Erin has made fagbug into a full time career and teaching opportunity, visiting over 100 schools with the fagbug car and film in the past 4 years. She has now been to 46 states (with plans to hit all 50), has received 125 notes on her car, and in part of her lecture makes the audience guess how many times her car’s been revandalyzed or had physical objects or imprints left on it since she’s had it decked it out. Until March 8th that number had been 7. That number includes the fagbug getting egged, keyed, having a large plastic garage can placed on the top of it, a husky dog thrown on it scratching up the hood in the middle of the Chicago Gay Pride Parade, getting a kiss mark with lip stick on the driver’s side window in Alexandria Bay, New York and having her windshield wipers placed sticking straight up and down.
What I have to say to the wipers being tampered with is come on if you’re going to do something, then do something.” I’m actually surprised at how much people have respected the car over time.” says Erin.
When Erin began this track 4 years ago, people speculated that her car might get written on again. A woman Erin interviewed in San Diego says “Why would somebody exasperate what is already written toward violence? Why would somebody take it to violent means? You might get your car written on again, but I don’t think anything else will happen to ya.”
On the cross country road-trip, Erin and her car went unharmed. The worst that happened was the people attempted to remove the graffiti numerous times with soap, their fingernails, razor blades, you name it. People also told Erin ways she could fix her car. “I could write a book about ways to get graffiti off a car. You don’t know how many times in a year I had to hear over and over again all the ways: paint thinner, nail polish remover, acetone, rubbing compound. Yes I know. I’m keeping it on. Thank you.”
Although Erin expected other words to have been written on her car in the beginning, or when she put on the vinyl wrap, it’s four years later and never happened, until this week. On the evening of March 8th Erin was at SUNY Plattsburgh with her car on display in front a high-populated area with constant student traffic. Erin puts her car on display on each campus she attends as a way to evoke a dialogue. “If you’re curious what the climate is toward homosexuality in any given area, place the fagbug there and just listen. People don’t just see it and walk by; it brings conversations out on the topic. It’s almost like a performance piece, engaging people in conversation everywhere it’s seen.”
Someone in the audience at SUNY Plattsburgh said, “I dig what you’re doing but what about that one seven year old who sees your car on the highway and is hurt or confused by it.”
Erin’s response was, “’m sure my car sparks several conversations, many I’m sure unwanted conversations between children and adults. Some parents tell me they look up the website and use it as a way to teach their children about the use of the term fag, what it means to be gay, and the beauty in what I’m doing as a way to fight back against discrimination. I believe I’m a positive example of how to create change. I’m not a victim. The person who vandalized my car is the victim. The one who needs help.”
Prior to Erin’s presentation where she showed clips from the film that is dedicated to whoever vandalized her car, a student came running in to give her the news. “There’s writing on your car. I just went out to put a note on your car and saw It.” said Alex Fauchet, the treasurer of the GLBT club on campus. Erin asked what type of writing, and the students showed her pictures they took. She ran out to assess the damage. “Faggets + Dikes Must Die” was written on her driver’s side window with black dry erase marker in the same place was spray painted nearly 4 years ago.
“It wouldn’t have been so shocking in the beginning, but after four years and not having it happen. It’s a shock now. It amazes me what people feel comfortable doing when no one’s around. If someone thinks that I’d be open to having a face to face conversation about it, but writing on my property when I’m not there to defend myself is just cowardly.”
After showing clips from the film, Erin opened up the conversation by asking what students thought the response would be to having the fagbug on their campus. No one guessed that it would be targeted the way it was. Ten out of around eighty people who were in the audience knew already what had happened. Erin informed the remainder of the audience by putting up a photograph she took of her window, “Faggets + Dikes Must Die.” This is what was written on my car on your campus about an hour ago. It’s the first time in four years this has ever happened. It didn’t happen on my road trip and I put the car in every vulnerable position you could imagine around the entire country. It hasn’t happened driving the car in my everyday life. It hasn’t happened at any other campuses I’ve been to and I’ve been to almost 100 schools with the car over four years. How does this make you feel?”
“I was shocked that anyone would do such a thing on a vehicle in plain site. What would they have done if it had been out of site? The thought of what could have happened if the car had been farther from campus is unsettling.” –Alex Fauchet
“I’m embarrassed by the actions of the individual who vandalized Erin Davies’s car. I feel that this will only contribute to the stereotype that small cities and towns are close-minded and intolerant based on the actions of either a student who wasn’t even raised here or a local resident.” – Kathryn Castillo
“It was incredibly upsetting to hear that this was the first time negative graffiti has defaced the Fagbug since the original incident, and I was saddened but not surprised that it could happen here.” –Jocelyn Cook
Although, I’m surprised that it happened. Plattsburgh is not an area that I believe to be very educated on diversity.” -Sarah Wild
“I have lived in Plattsburgh, NY for 3 and half years. Being a gay man I have experienced homophobia all to often in this town. Unfortunately, this also happened to Erin while she was here to give her presentation. I wish the place I call home would evolve and realize that homophobia is a severe problem here. I hope homophobia and acts of violence against gay people in Plattsburgh, NY will change in time for the better. I guess we can all have a dream.” -Dan Sturrock
“This person clearly does not represent the whole campus, however, this will be the memory that will be taken away from that night. What this person did has not only affected Erin but has also affected the entire campus community.” – Hayley Gentner
A student who was physically attacked as part of a hate crime introduced Erin at the beginning of her program. Erin spent a majority of the evening talking about the incident and climate in Plattsburgh. There was fear in the audience and many stories were shared that backed it up. “At the same token places that are more remote appreciate my presence that much more. The students were so excited to have my car on their campus. They were all outside cheering as I arrived.”
A police officer circled the outside of the auditorium asking Erin, “Would you like to make a report?” “Well, it’s not the way I planned to spend my evening, but of course. I’m a firm believer in documenting things like this. How can you change or fix a problem if no one knows the problem even exists?” The incident was filed as criminal mischief and hate crime.
Once Erin returned to her car after the event, a smile came to her face. She had 12 new hand-written notes left on her car to add to her collection. One included a pastel colored bracelet and the note said, “Here’s a bracelet to remember me and your journey to Plattsburgh. I made this bracelet in my first Day of Silence, the same day your car was vandalized.”
“Things like this make it worth every discomfort or struggle I have or may continue to endure.”
Erin sees the message she received as another teaching moment. “It doesn’t make me feel afraid. I feel even more motivated to educate people on the intolerance that exists. It’s everywhere. People need to know that”