CHARLESTON — Erin Davies, activist and creator of the documentary "Fagbug," was told by Charleston High School administrators to remove her vehicle from school property Thursday morning.
Before school hours, Davies, 35, a resident of New York, spoke to students of the Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA), an unofficial club at CHS. After five minutes of being at the high school, Davies said, she was told by administration officials that she could stay at the school but had to park her vehicle off of school grounds.
"I was told that I was allowed to be at the school, but the car couldn't and I felt like that was the same thing," said Davies, whose rainbow-colored auto is adorned with "fagbug" in large letters on the side. "Moving the car two blocks over doesn't fix the problem."
Diane Hutchins, principal of CHS, said she made the decision that the vehicle couldn’t be on school property because of the word "fag."
"It was a result of direction that the GSA has given us in the past," Hutchins said. "In the past and even now the GSA has directed us that they consider the word 'fag' to be a derogatory term and they don't want students to be allowed to use it in the school and they consider the use of the word as bullying them.
"You can't have things both ways — we can't punish a student for calling someone that name and then allow a vehicle to park out there with that word on it."
Hutchins added that administrators were not notified that Davies would be speaking to CHS students on Thursday.
Davies has been traveling across the United States in her Volkswagen Beetle with the words "Fagbug" on the side of her auto as a way to educate and empower others, in addition to sharing her story.
Seven years ago, Davies was a victim of a hate crime in Albany, N.Y., when her Beetle, which had a rainbow sticker on it, was vandalized with the words "fag" and "u r gay" scrawled on the driver's side window and hood of her car.
Davies said she decided to embrace what happened and left the graffiti on her car and took a 58-day trip around the United States and Canada documenting people's reactions to her car. Since then Davies continues to travel the world with a newly painted Beetle and speak at schools.
On Wednesday, Davies visited Eastern Illinois University to talk to students and was approached by Kelly Eubanks, the mother of CHS student Riley Eubanks, who is a member of the school's GSA. Eubanks said she invited Davies to speak to members of the club on Thursday morning, and she said GSA adviser Rick Cahoon agreed to Davies' visit.
Right now CHS's GSA is considered an unofficial club because it's not looked at as an educational or academic club, according to Hutchins. She added that clubs that are non-curricular or non-athletic are still allowed to hold meetings at CHS, but are just not recognized by the school.
"If we were to allow that (GSA) to be a club we would have to allow all non-curricular groups to be clubs," Hutchins said. "I have supported the group for the eight years I have been here. I have bent over backwards to make sure these kids had a safe place to be and a safe place to meet. I'm trying to protect my students — I'm not trying in any way to stop what they are trying to do."
Eubanks said despite what Hutchins says the high school currently recognizes non-curricular and non-athletic clubs and members of GSA are fighting to have the school recognize it as an official club.
The Equal Access Act prohibits schools from banning student-led non-curricular groups because of the content of the speech at the groups’ meetings. And it goes on to say that if the school allows one non-curricular club then all groups should have "access to physical meeting spaces on school premises, but also to recognition and privileges afforded to other groups at the school, including, for example, the right to announce club meetings in the school newspaper, on bulletin boards, or over the public-address system," according to the federal law.
On Thursday, Davies was only scheduled to speak to CHS students for about 30 minutes before school started; however her time was partially derailed once she was asked to move her vehicle off of school property.
"I have only been asked to move my car five times in the seven years that I have been doing this," Davies said. "I don't move my car because it's discrimination. I take the stance that if I'm parked in a public place then I make it a point to not move my car because it forces people to deal with their discomfort."
Although Davies was told she needed to move her vehicle, she stood her ground and chose not to. Instead, Davies said, she continued to talk with the GSA students.
"Sometimes controversy helps to bring an issue to the forefront," Davies said. "I'm trying to be an example of standing your ground and being true to yourself."