College student Erin Davies’ life turned upside down after she was the target of homophobia in 2007. Turning a negative situation into a positive one, Davies took her Volkswagen Beetle, now “decorated” with homophobic slurs, out on the road. A few years later, Davies is back – with her beloved “Fagbug.”
For those of us who don’t know what happened to you and how this all started, can you give our readers a back story of what happened to you?
Well, I was attending school at Sage College in Albany, New York and I was an art education graduate student at the time. It was April 18, 2007. I had my car, which was a Volkswagen Beetle, parked on the street on campus when I came out to see that it had been vandalized. I was shocked when I first saw what was written on my car. The words, “fag” and “U R gay” were spray-painted onto my car. It was all because I had a gay pride sticker on my car, which obviously tipped off the offenders.
How did you handle this? Were you afraid? Was there a prevailing feeling of homophobia that existed on campus?
Immediately after I discovered what happened, I tried to figure out what to do next. I didn’t even want to drive the car at first. I felt paranoid about it. I had to look for a rental car while I figured out what I could do to fix my car. There were complaints on campus about the vehicle and I was told I had to move it off campus, because of the complaints the car was generating. People on campus were pointing and laughing at the car. The original intent by the offenders was to obviously embarrass.
What pushed you to take your story on the road?
I wanted to take a negative and turn it into a positive thing. I decided initially not to take the graffiti off my car, but rather drive across the country from state to state and video document my experiences interacting with different people and to raise awareness. I wanted to put LGBT hate crimes front in center and what better way than to drive my car and put it on display for others to see. So, I put my studies on hold and I began a two-month journey across the country. I interviewed 536 people during my trip and I received a wide range of responses from people. The car quickly became known as “Fagbug.”
How did your story get attention to be able to do Fagbug the film?
Well my story was able to generate some attention through my own work and through the help of friend. Eventually some sponsors found out about my trip and contacted me wanting to help. I received sponsorship from Volkswagen and by HD Radio. I video documented the entire trip and was lucky to have it picked up by Netflix. The documentary released by Netflix in 2009 and was premiered at various film festivals across the country. It’s available on Netflix, Hulu, Youtube, and iTunes.
What have been some of the reactions that you have experienced during your travels in the U.S.?
Well, in addition to Fagbug the film, I have been on the road a lot doing speaking engagements at different universities and bringing the car with me to different events. The car eventually got repainted rainbow colors and rebranded with words “Fagbug” on it. So, anywhere I go, the car is the star of the show. It generates attention no matter where I drive it, good and bad.
The negative reactions on the road include having been flipped off a few times and the car has taken some abuse. A window has been broken a couple of times and one time the car was vandalized at SUNY Plattsburgh. Somebody wrote “faggets + dikes need to die.” I documented it and made it part of my presentations.
Overall, though, there have been a lot of positive reactions. Over the course of my travels, I have received 400 notes that have been left on my car, 395 of those were positive. I keep them and document them as well. It’s really touching to read these notes and meet people who really make this all worth it.
Has your family been supportive of your work?
Yes, they have. I think initially they thought it was just an art project for me, but eventually they saw it was a serious venture. My dad loaned me money to pay for my initial travel expenses.
So, with Fagbug Nation, what logistics problems have you encountered?
The goal with the second film, Fagbug Nation was to complete my goal of getting the car to visit every state in the county. The two that were left were Hawaii and Alaska; the two most logistically challenging ones for certain. To do this, I went without a car for 54 days, had to put my car on five boats and flew 14 planes during this time that I documented on the trip. It was definitely challenging, but a lot of fun in the end. Besides Hawaii and Alaska, I also made a stop at the Equality House in Topeka, Kansas (the house across the street from the Westboro Baptist Church).
Where will Fagbug Nation be available to be seen when it’s released?
It released December 2 and it’s available on iTunes. You can find the trailer for the film on YouTube.
What future projects/work do you have planned next?
I plan to continue my speaking engagements and working as an activist within our community. I have 65 festivals to attend across the country. I also have wanted to do a children’s book, so that may be in the works down the road.
Find out more about Erin Davies and Fagbug Nation by visiting the film’s website: http://www.fagbug.com/fagbugnation.htm.