On April 18, 2007, someone spray-painted “fag” on Erin Davies’ Volkswagon Beetle when it was parked in downtown Albany.
But rather than remove the offensive graffiti, Davies decided to take her small gray car — which she now calls the Fagbug — on the road.
She spent 58 days driving around the country, chronicling her experiences and interactions in a film, called “Fagbug,” that was released on DVD during the summer.
Today Davies speaks regularly at high school and college campuses, and sells Fagbug stickers and T-shirts on her website. There are several different shirts, two of which feature the slurs she found on her car, and one which says “I ‘heart’ fagbug,” and has a picture of a rainbow colored car on it. And Davies recently began selling a 4-inch toy car. “Great for VW lovers or any true fagbug fan,” the website said.
Davies was living in Albany and studying teaching at Sage Graduate School when the vandalism occurred; her car was parked on Eagle Street at the time of the incident. In addition to “fag,” which was painted in red on the driver side door, “U R Gay” was sprayed on the hood. She has said she believes she was targeted because she had a rainbow sticker on her car, which is associated with gay pride.
Initially embarrassed by the graffiti, Davies decided fairly quickly that she wanted to use the slur to raise awareness about hate crimes and homophobia, and began filming and interviewing people two days after her car was defaced.
“The car markets itself,” said Davies, 32, who now lives in Syracuse. “It gets people talking. It makes people talk about and deal with things they aren’t ready to talk about and deal with yet. ... When you go to the store, people you don’t know don’t usually come up and talk to you. The car gives them permission to talk to me.”
Davies eventually dropped out of Sage to devote herself to the Fagbug project, which has become a full-time job that involves public speaking, promoting her movie and selling the merchandise that helps subsidize her activities. One year after the car was vandalized, she decided to give it a makeover, and had it painted to look like a rainbow.
“Fagbug” is 83 minutes long and is distributed by Garden Thieves Pictures, a small, Washington, D.C.-based company that specializes in independent films with an educational focus.
The film can be viewed for free on Hulu.com, a website that streams television shows and films, and will soon be available through Netflix, iTunes and Comcast on Demand. The DVD cover includes praise from Vanity Fair writer Brett Berk, who called it the “Best Gay Car Movie of 2008” in a write-up about Davies and her project.
Casey Callister of Garden Thieves Pictures said he learned about Fagbug when Davies contacted him to tell him about her film.
“The film’s biggest strength is that it creates a discussion,” he said. “It highlights issues people might not know about. The car creates that dialogue.”
On her road trip, Davies visited 41 states. Along the way, she documented a range of reactions. Many people were supportive. Some even tried to remove the graffiti for her. “I was one month into it when someone removed the word fag off my car with a razor blade,” she said. To carry out the project, “I ended up putting fag back on the car.” Other people were bothered by the graffiti — hotel owners sometimes asked her to park out of sight.
But Davies said verbal attacks were rare.
When two young men yelled insults at the car in Indiana, a male friend was driving, which has led her to believe men are more likely to be attacked if they are gay than women. Rather than ignore the young men, Davies interviewed them, trying to learn more about why they had yelled at the car. “It turned the whole situation around,” she said. “It gave them a platform to be heard.”
“I’ve been driving around with the word fag on my car for almost four years,” Davies said. “If I were a guy I think I would have been attacked.”
Davies’ trip took her to Winter Haven, Fla., where a young gay man named Ryan Skipper was murdered in what authorities described as a hate crime; she also traveled to South Carolina, where she met the mother of Sean Kennedy, another gay young man who was murdered in Greenville.
For the most part, the people Davies met on the road were enthusiastic about what she was doing. The film is filled with commentary from people who think the project is neat, although one woman expresses concern over the fact that Davies is traveling alone and advises her to acquire a gun.
Davies said that in Albany, where the vandalism occurred, the response to the Fagbug project has been muted.
“People from Albany were against my campaign,” she said. “That wasn’t what I expected. People thought I made [the graffiti] up.”
But the positive has outweighed the negative, and Davies plans to continue her work.
She wants to make a second film, and create more Fagbug-related products: a beer called Fagbrew and a children’s book called The Rainbow Bug. She would also like to partner with Volkswagon dealers to sell rainbow cars, and document the experiences the buyers have.