An interview by Scott Corlett
On April 18, 2007, Erin Davies left her Albany apartment for work. When she reached her street-parked VW Beetle, she found the car tagged with homophobic slurs. Erin’s immediate reactions were the usual shock and hurt. But what Erin did after that was anything but typical.
GW:Erin, in April, your VW Beetle was spray-painted with the internet-friendly epithets, “Fag” and “U R Gay.” Tell us about how you discovered the car-where were you going, were you alone or with someone, and what kind of day was it.
ED:I was on my way to my part-time job. I am a graduate student at Sage Graduate School, going for my masters in art education. I have two graduate assistantships, one in the education office and one in the diversity office. I also work at Moe’s Southwest Grill. That day, I was on my way to Moe’s. I was scheduled to work at 11AM, and I left my apartment at 10:40. My car was parked in front of a residence for priests, opposite a huge cathedral. From where I live, I walked up the hill, along a block that is lined with beautiful old homes. It was a sunny day, and I had the houses on my left and, on my right, Mansion Hill Park, which is very scenic and peaceful. As I reached the top of the hill and turned left, I saw something red on my hood and was shocked to read the words “u r gay.”
GW:If we found some extra artwork on our wheels, our first reaction would be “What the Hell?” They’d be looking up the different types of criminal damage charges and seeing if they could have the perpetrators locked up. What did you think?
ED: Immediately, I took the graffiti personally and thought someone had seen my girlfriend and me in the neighborhood. After a few seconds, I saw more red writing on my driver’s side window. Because, from where I stood, the writing appeared backwards, I walked around the car and saw head on “fAg” [sic] painted on my window. After I read that, I realized the vandalism wasn’t personal. I’ve been out for more than twelve years, and no one who knew me and wanted to hurt me would write “u r gay” or “fag” on my car. That’s like writing “u r straight” on the car of someone who is at total ease with their heterosexuality-thank you for stating the obvious. Then I figured out I was targeted because of the rainbow sticker on my car. Until a year ago, when I bought my VW Beetle, I’d never had a rainbow sticker on any of my previous cars. This time, I’d just happened to find a nice sticker that I thought would look cute on my new car. I never thought much about it. I certainly didn’t think a simple sticker would make me a target for something like this. I guess I thought we were much more advanced than that in 2007.
GW: So, on National Day of Silence no less, you find your car decorated with homophobic phrases. Did this stop your from going about your business?
ED: The graffiti didn’t stop me from going to work or school, but it did prevent me from driving my car. After I saw the paint, I realized that I had to either jet or be late for work, so I hopped in and started my car. I didn’t even drive half a block before people started to point and laugh at me. Then, I put my car in reverse and pulled right back into the same parking spot. I ran down the hill as fast as I could, fighting back tears. I continued to run up the three flights of stairs to my apartment, where my girlfriend was home sick. I told her what had happened and asked if she would bring me to work. Had she not been home that day, I would’ve probably had an emotional breakdown.
GW: Most people whose vehicle had been vandalized like this would have the spray paint removed ASAP. And many people recommended to you that you do same. Yet you chose to leave the graffiti on your Beetle. We assume it wasn’t because you wanted to pocket the insurance money. Tell us why.
ED: Well, first, let me share that the cost to have my car fixed is $350 and that I have a $500 deductible; therefore the money is coming one-hundred-percent out of my pocket. Second, we are taught in our society to cover up things like this, to hide them, and to internalize them. Someone told me that if I covered up the graffiti, no one else would see it. But I would’ve seen it every single time I went to my car. If I just covered it up, I would’ve internalized the entire experience and would have felt guilt and shame and humiliation. Instead-by keeping the graffiti, by not covering it up, by not hiding it-I feel empowered, strong. I have received support from people across the United States, Belgium, Australia, Spain, Italy, the UK, New Zealand, Mexico, and other countries. And since my local community can see the damage wherever I go, they are helping to find who did this and I now have several leads.
Also, this person wanted to bully me into removing my rainbow sticker, and although, on the first day, I considered this, I soon realized the importance of leaving it on. I won’t let one person’s actions make me feel afraid, and no one else should either.
GW: What do your friends and family think about your decision?
ED: My friends and family are very supportive of my decision. I don’t think they would’ve responded this way, but once they saw the reactions I’ve received, they’ve been behind me all the way.
GW: Presumably, some people in your community have been supportive and some, not so much. Share with us a few of the reactions that you’ve seen.
ED: Well, I can start with the third day after it happened. I’d been driving a rental for two days and had decided to drive my car to school. I parked my car in front of the admissions building, and, within one hour, over fifty phone calls were made to the school’s public safety unit. Some people were outraged and wanted to help me, while others were bothered by how it made the school look and wanted the car removed immediately. Not only was I asked to move my car, but I was also dismissed from working at an event because my car wasn’t welcome. It just showed how fearful people are of dealing with homophobia. The same goes with the police. They refused to see this as a hate crime; they only saw it as a personal attack against me. Even though the state of New York has hate crime legislation, those in positions of power have no idea how to put that law into motion. The first four times that I spoke with the police, they insisted this act wasn’t a hate crime, but instead was done by someone I recently upset. They insisted something I did caused it to happen.
I’ve had four nice letters left on my car, one with the word “hero” written on the outside and, on the inside, $5 and a note that thanked me for standing up for those who remain silent. A fifth letter left on my car said “it’s a shame you made this up” and gave a phone number. I called the number, and a guy screamed at me for fifteen minutes and told me I made it up just so I could get publicity. I also received a letter on May 23rd that said “All Fags should die. Before they try to take over the world with their immoral ways.” That said, I’ve received over two thousand letters of support, donations, and help with setting up events across the United States; I’ve done several spots on national radio talk shows; I was featured in the latest issue of The Advocate; and I’ll be in Curve’s next issue.
GW: Talk about the law of unintended consequences, thanks in part to a homophobe with a spray can, you’ve decided to drive across the country in your tagged Beetle to educate people about homophobia, you’ve started a website called Fagbug.com to further this effort, and you might even end up with a reality TV show to document your journey. You’ve taken an event that would incite anger and shame in many people and turned it into a positive for our community. Tell us about your speaking tour and where can we see you.
ED: For one year, I plan to drive my car as is and document my experiences. I’m currently setting up my trip for this summer. I have a tentative route: I plan to leave around June 25th and go to St. Pete’s Pride on June 30th; Colorado Springs’s on July 15th; San Diego’s on July 21st; Vancouver’s on August 5th; and then back to Albany toward the end of August. In each city that I visit, I want to have a dialogue with as diverse a group of people as I can, and I am working on setting up events for the days in between pride events. And, in the fall, I will do a follow-up tour, during which I’ll travel to universities and high schools across the country in my fagbug. If anyone would like me to speak-either this summer or this fall-at their pride parade or to a school, community, or church group or at any other event, please e-mail me at [email protected]
GW: Our first car was a VW Beetle, and, being car geeks, we have to ask a few automotive questions. Does your Beetle have a name and if so, what is it?
ED: Well, my girlfriend has a VW Beetle named BUG, which is not pronounced like “bug,” but said as if you spelled out all the letters, like “Beaugie.” She named hers before we met, and I’d always thought it was such a cute name. She’s had her VW for more than five years, while I bought mine a little more than a year ago. She kept telling me I had to think of a name for my car, but nothing had come to mind. Looks like I found her a name: Fagbug, it is! BUG was very upset when he found out what happened to Fagbug.
GW: How long have you had it/her/him?
ED: I’ve had Fagbug (her) since March of 2006. She is the first car that I didn’t buy with cash, so I also have my very first car payment. Given that I pay $266 a month for her and am a struggling graduate student, the damage was all the more of a blow.
GW: What do you think your Bug would say about all that’s happened in the last six weeks?
ED: “Yes, I am gay. Yes, I am a fag. And proud of it!”
GW: Is there anything else that you’d like to share with us?
ED: My goal is to get one million people-gay and straight-to add fagbug stickers to their cars so that no one can be targeted the way I was. Join me in the fight against hate crimes, support fagbug, and get a great sticker for your car by visiting www.fagbug.com
GW: Erin, from all of us here at Gaywheels.com, thanks for the great things that you’re doing for the gay and lesbian community. Good luck with the tour.
[Responses were edited for brevity and clarity-Ed.]