Rainbow road warrior
Erin Davies tours the country filming America’s reaction to the Fagbug
In 2006, in Albany, N.Y., college student Erin Davies’ Volkswagen bug was vandalized with the spray-painted words “u r gay” and “fag.” Instead of cleaning off the mess, however, the openly gay art student left the words in place, picked up a video camera, and took off across the country to film people’s reactions to them. That 58-day trip resulted in 536 interviews and Davies’ first film, 2009’s Fagbug.
After the trip, Davies gave her bug a makeover in the form of a rainbow paint job with the car’s moniker emblazoned across both sides. She then took off on another journey—this one with the goal of hitting all 50 states, even Alaska and Hawaii (which she achieved)—seeking out more voices to join the discussion of homophobia and LGBT rights for a second documentary, the recently released Fagbug Nation, which premires in Chico Sunday, Oct. 26, at the Pageant Theatre.
Chico was one of Davies’ stops, and Fagbug Nation includes appearances by a handful of locals, including Nicholas Mertz from Stonewall Alliance, Butte College instructor Jodi Rives Meier, Sharon Nilsson (owner of Funky Trunk), Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. product manager Terence Sullivan, and Chico State English instructor Linda Rogers and her son Peter Rogers-Davidson. In fact, the Chico premiere is dedicated to young Peter. Davies will donate the night’s proceeds to a college fund for the 10-year-old (he was 8 during filming), whose sweet, thoughtful responses to the issue of bullying has made him an audience favorite.
During a recent telephone interview, Davies shared some thoughts on what she’s learned during these documentary journeys.
Driving into a town in Fagbug has to be a great conversation starter.
Yes, exactly. I never had to go to anybody to ask to talk to them; everyone in the film basically came to me, and I say that’s the magic behind the car. It definitely is a catalyst.
On your travels, have you gotten a sense of where we are as a country along the road to equality?
When I first started, gay marriage wasn’t in the forefront of people’s conversation. … I guess I think that, politically, the country is evolving but I think there’s a backlash. With social media, I think it really encourages a lack of conversation, which is why I think that my project is important. Because I’m with my car, [and] if [anyone] says anything against it, I have to be responsible for that and deal with it. Social media just really encourages anonymous behavior where you’re not really responsible.
I try to encourage people to investigate and have more of a conversation. … If you get to know someone—that’s the goal with both my films—you relate to that character.
One person who sent me an email about the first film, they said, “I just watched your film, and I’m amazed by your courage. I’m a heterosexual man and have used ignorant slurs to describe homosexuals in the past. I’d like to apologize to you and everyone else; I will make sure to teach my children to be more understanding than I have been.” So that’s my favorite email that I ever got.
Do comments like that motivate you?
I deal with a lot of negativity, [but] overall it’s 100 good things to one bad. There’s a lot of positive that I deal with. … People leave notes on the car, and the notes have always been my favorite part of driving the car. I’ve gotten almost 400 notes on the car and I’ve saved every single one.
What do you think needs to happen next for equality in America?
Personally, a change I’d like to see: I’d like kids in elementary school to be able to be educated on understanding what it means to be gay, and learning that being gay is not a negative thing.
Has this project made you pretty fearless?
My project is definitely not a fear-based project. Most people would go out of their way to not do something like what I’m doing because they’d be afraid of what if this bad thing or something happened.
I feel that with people who internalize homophobia, that’s really driven by fear. Sometimes you fear that a person could do something; you don’t even give people a chance to do the right thing. And you’re missing out on all those good things. I’ve gotten almost 400 notes, [but] only five or six have been negative. So, had I just hid what happened to my car and not done any of this, yes, I could have avoided vandalism to my car happening—which has happened again—[but] I also would’ve avoided 385 positive things that were going to come to my life that I never would’ve experienced or known.