A slur anonymously graffitied on the side of her car has led Erin Davies on a trip of a lifetime.
Initially, Davies said she was humiliated when she awoke one April morning in 2007 and found the word "fag" on the driver's side window. Her embarrassment intensified when the New York grad school student was asked by public safety officers to remove her car from campus due to numerous complaints they had received.
Davies, who wasn't able to have the graffiti removed for a week, said a friend then suggested that she drive the car, with the slur intact, for a week to raise awareness about hate crimes and homophobia.
"Basically, it sparked this whole dialogue and I couldn't just go about my life and ignore it," she said. "Two days into it, I just had this gut feeling that I might as well embrace this. It wasn't my problem. It was everyone else's."
The 28-year-old then began to plan for a two-month road trip throughout the country by herself to gay pride events and other venues such as college campuses and high school assemblies. Along the way, she videotaped interviews and conversations as she encountered people with the intentions of making a documentary.
"A month into the trip, someone removed the graffiti from my car. I had already been on the news station. Once I got into the news, I knew I had to keep going forward with it," she said.
Davies had a decision to make about how much the car added to the trip.
"My car without me does so many things. It's great to have me there to speak to, but it's the car that really gets people talking," she said.
A rainbow sticker that Davies had on her car became the inspiration behind the new look of her car. Bold, colorful, horizontal stripes lined the car and the words "Fagbug" were prominently displayed on the side.
"It was a difficult decision to turn my car into a rainbow, but it's much more visible. It's a bigger, bolder statement. Then the whole thing really started to spread, especially online," she said. "Everywhere I went, people came up to talk to me about it. I interviewed 500 people that first year. It broke down barriers of communication. No matter if I was getting groceries or gas, strangers would come talk to me all the time."
Davies, who had planned to become an art teacher, dropped out of grad school to pursue a new career in speaking and to finish her film, also named "Fagbug," which debuted in 2009, almost two years to the day of the incident.
"I had raised $100,000 through speaking engagements and 'fagbug' merchandise to finish the film," she said. "It just showed me that you can accomplish your goals even if you don't have the money."
Davies now lives in Syracuse and continues to travel throughout the United States and Canada, bringing her car with her to speaking events. She will appear at Penn State Fayette, The Eberly Campus, 12:30 p.m. Thursday. Admission is free. Davies said the program will feature a viewing of her documentary and the telling of her story.
To date, Davies said she has visited 48 states in her car, and plans to visit them all. She said at this time, she doesn't plan to return to grad school, and has no end date for her speaking out against hate crimes.
"I feel like by me having the opposite reaction of what people would have normally done in that situation, I internalized it and forced the person who did this to see how they were wrong. It empowered me, and I have to continue to empower other people," he said.
"Everything I've done and accomplished so far is because of the anonymous thing someone did. This is my way of holding this person accountable. In my own way, I am communicating to this person and I have defeated that person."