ALISON STEWART, host:
Erin Davies had a rainbow sticker on her VW bug, not the kind of a rainbow sticker with a unicorn attached or anything but the kind usually associated with gay pride.
While parked on a street in Albany, someone painted the words "fag" and "u r gay" on the hood in the driver side window of her car. It happened on April 18th, 2007: National Day of Silence, an annual event to bring attention to anti-lesbian, gay and bi and transgender bullying, harassment and discrimination. Now, she didn't remove the words from her car. She left the graffiti on and drove across the country on a 58-day tour, and she filmed her trek. The car is now known as the Fagbug, and it's the star of her documentary, which is in the works.
Erin Davies joins us.
Ms. ERIN DAVIES (Owner, "Fagbug"): Hi. How are you?
STEWART: I'm doing okay. So when you first came out and saw your car with this graffiti on it, what was your first initial reaction?
Ms. DAVIES: My first reaction was just shocked. I mean, I thought it's 2007; we're so far beyond this kind of stuff. I had never seen anything like that before. I mean, this is beyond me that would somebody would actually do that.
You know, I've been openly gay since I was 17, and I'm 29 years old now. So writing you are gay is like writing your name as Erin or you have brown eyes and writing you are heterosexual on someone's car, that's okay with being heterosexual. I mean, it didn't really hurt myself feelings to see that writing fag on my car. I feel like fag is - again, it's not really a word directed towards a woman so it seemed kind of foreign to me, or the words that they wrote to me, it's obvious that they just saw that rainbow sticker and decided to do that.
STEWART: Now, you obviously had a choice. You could have gotten that cleaned up right away. But when did it hit you that you were going to leave that derogatory statement on your car?
Ms. DAVIES: For me, it's important for people to know that, you know, I did feel those initial feelings that everybody would feel. When I walked out to just to pushing my car, it's not like I walked out. And I said, no, this is awesome; what a great opportunity, you know?
STEWART: Right. Right.
Ms. DAVIES: I went through all the emotions that anybody would go through and it's actually one of those weird coincidences. I had my - I want to get it fixed, you know, as soon as possible. I called my insurance company that day and they said that it would take five days. And this is how much they didn't want to drive the car. I'd meet them and give me a rental car because I refuse to even drive the car the first day. It was like I have fag next to my face. There's no way I'm driving it. It's humiliating. I'd be kidding me.
So they actually got me a rental car and I drove the rental car for two days. People in my neighborhood came up to me in the rental car and stopped me in the middle of traffic to talk to me about my car. Two days later, I was going for a run one morning and the parking lot attendant where my car is always parked, those guy came up to me and had a 45-minute conversation with me about my car. It's like I just started feeling like I couldn't get away from it so I eventually decided to embrace it. But that morning, that's kind of went it all came to me. I was like, well, there's something to this. So I decided to drive to school that day. I got this great parking spot in front of the admissions building. I mean, it's so weird. I've never gotten a good parking spot on campus.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Ms. DAVIES: When I get this great spot right in front of the admissions building, within one hour that morning between nine and 10 in the morning, there were over 15 phone calls made to public safety. People were giving me their feedback, like, I should take the sticker off because they didn't want me to get hurt, or I should keep it on because (unintelligible) bully and intimidate me. So it all kind of started with this polar opposite reaction to what should I do about the sticker. Keep it on and take it off. People believe they've very sympathetic and they're upset to know whose car that is, trying to help or they were like get that car off our campus immediately.
STEWART: When people - when you were driving around with the car a little bit initially before you decided to make this film and people stops you and wanted to talk to you about what someone had done to your car, what did people want to talk to you about? Did they want to give you solidarity or did they wonder why you were still driving the car?
Ms. DAVIES: Well, at first, I wasn't driving the car. So at first, people just - they want to come find me and tell - you know, they saw my car parked and they were just kind of coming to me to give me support - like my neighbors. You know, then once I decided to drive it, my car is often parked in different areas, people started leaving me notes on my car. So I mean, this kind of overwhelming response that people are having. I mean, the mechanic left a note on my car saying he would offer to fix it for free, and I'm so sorry somebody did that. Someone left me a note (unintelligible) and gave me, you know, $5 for my trip. A pastor left me a note, you know, saying I'm sorry. I mean, I definitely opened myself up to even broader responses than just driving it in Albany.
STEWART: I can imagine. So the people at the cross-country trip that you decided to take and you sort of documented it, what cities did you go to?
Ms. DAVIES: I went to like 30 different cities, but my route was basically starting in Albany going directly down South. And then I - my next event was in Colorado so I went to Alabama and I went to Memphis on my way to Colorado. From there, I went, you know, out West. I went to L.A., Vegas.
STEWART: Vegas. Let's - I know we have a clip of you talking to somebody in Vegas; somebody who has seen your car. So let's take a quick listen to that clip.
(Soundbite of documentary film, "Fagbug")
Ms. DAVIES: What do you think you'd do if someone does this to your car? Like, if you walk out and saw it on your car, what do you think you would do?
Unidentified Man: And I knew the person who did it?
Ms. DAVIES: Mm-hmm.
Unidentified Man: Oh, I'd crack their skull open with a baseball bat. That's exactly what I'd do. I'd knock the living (bleep) out of him. Are you joking me? Not because of any other reason. You know, I got news for you, sweetheart. If I saw him doing that to your car, I would have knocked the (bleep) out of him. There's no room. There's no room for people like this. It's wrong. It's wrong.
STEWART: I think he's from Vegas by the way of Brooklyn, that accent of his.
Ms. DAVIES: Yeah. Yeah.
(Soundbite of laughter)
STEWART: Did you have anybody who…
Ms. DAVIES: He's a New Yorker.
STEWART: Did you have anybody who reacted negatively to you and say why are you doing this? Why are you driving around with this car like this?
Ms. DAVIES: I did. I was leaving Madison, Wisconsin, and there's 17-year-old kid, I eventually got the license plate that says FG-BUG - they wouldn't, I couldn't get five bucks over my license plate. Also, it was kind of fagbug too. And I was leaving a gas station. That's why it's very interesting the response that I would get at gas station. But as I was leaving gas station and that 17-year-old kid is in this, like, white pick-up truck and he just looks back at me and keeps shaking his head at me, you know, it was like five or six times.
And I eventually just went next to him and says, whops, why are you shaking your head at me? What are you thinking, you know? And he just said, I think you're so ridiculous for having them on your car and driving a car like that, having a license plate. And whenever people had creation on my trip, I just said, well, can I talk to you and interview you? And he said, sure. So I pulled over and we had, you know, probably like a 45-minute interview. And he's Christian and his family is very anti-gay, but he has a gay uncle. But a lot of people had never met someone that was gay, and so just getting to talk to gay person kind of change their attitudes, like even talking to this young kid. He was in all - like, he had basketball clothes on and likes to play basketball in college. So I had that to relate and we related on that topic. And by the end of it, he's like, well, good luck with your - the rest of your trip, and, you know, he was very friendly with me.
So I think it's just having being open to having that dialogue with some people can kind of change their attitudes about it.
STEWART: We're talking to Erin Davies, and she's working on a documentary about when she took her car where she'd been vandalized with the words fag and you are gay across it, and she took the car and drove it across the country and filmed some reactions along the way.
Let's listen to some women out of Seattle that you met.
(Soundbite of documentary film, "Fagbug")
Unidentified Woman #1: It feels really juvenile.
Unidentified Woman #2: Yeah.
Unidentified Woman #1: It feels like teenager, like, little boy angst or…
Unidentified Man #2: (Unintelligible) or something.
Unidentified Woman #2: Yeah, it's just…
Unidentified Woman #3: I have a feeling that it wasn't though…
Unidentified Woman #2: Yeah.
Unidentified Woman #3: …teenagers.
Unidentified Woman #2: Yeah.
Unidentified Woman #3: Maybe, but I have a feeling that it wasn't.
Ms. DAVIES: Who do you think it was? Like a male, female, like someone older.
Unidentified Man: Yeah. That's what I think.
Ms. DAVIES: Do you think it wasn't a teenager?
Unidentified Woman #3: I guess my - my gut, my - initially, my thought was it's got to be like 30, 40 something male. But I - I mean, that's, yeah, that's probably wrong of me to just like, you know, sit, think automatically…
Unidentified Woman #2: No. No.
Unidentified Woman #4: I think they're gay. I feel like it's (unintelligible).
Ms. DAVIES: Really?
Unidentified Woman #4: Like with their own internalize like homophobia.
Unidentified Woman #3: (Unintelligible), yeah.
Unidentified Woman #5: My gut translate between 10 and 14, white, middle-class boy.
STEWART: So, what do you hope to accomplish with this documentary? They have all different kinds of points of view about who did it, why they did it, their reaction to you for even getting in the car and driving across the country. What's your ultimate goal with this documentary?
Ms. DAVIES: Well, I think whether you're gay or straight, I think everybody can relate to something negative happening to them in their life and it's very hard to kind of take something like that, that could initially be hurtful to you, and, you know, take that and kind of feel that into something positive. And so I think it's something that young kids, like a lot of - you know, a lot of the young kids get to see this. Everybody can relate to being bullied in one way or another, but to kind of take that and not let that person to have that kind of power over you and decide to do something more positive with it.
STEWART: All right. Before I let you go, I understand you submitted this to Sundance?
Ms. DAVIES: Yes, I did, right before Christmas. And like, we got the first 20 minutes of the film done. You have to have like 20 minutes of continuous footage to submit it to the - their documentary funds, so I'm crossing my fingers because for the trip I raised all the money. But for the documentary, it's like starting over from square one coming up for the money for it. So if we could get support from Sundance, that would be a dream come true. That would be great.
STEWART: Well, Erin Davies, good luck with your project. And thanks for being so candid.
Ms. DAVIES: Thanks a lot.
(Soundbite of music)
STEWART: Next, we'll talk with a writer about how Google is catching plagiarist.
MARTIN: And joined in the show, our Twitter feed is up and running. Alison is addicted to it.
MARTIN: Twitter.com/bpp. You can tell us what you think, what you're doing, all that good stuff. This is THE BRYANT PARK PROJECT from NPR News.
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