Jordan Addison, a student at Radford University, had his car vandalized four times this year with gross anti-gay slurs and the somewhat enigmatic “dye.” Like a lot of college students, he was short on cash so he tried some fixes himself, but the damage was too extensive to cover, and the lowest cost estimate for the repairs was at least $2,500. Body work is expensive. I know, because I still haven’t dealt with the comparatively minor dings in my hood from rocks because I don’t want to spend a grand on them.
But in Jordan’s case, the need for body work was pretty imperative because his car was a living reminder of bullying and hatred. Driving a car covered in slurs and invective is not an enjoyable experience.
And when the folks at Quality Auto Paint and Body heard about the situation, they really stepped up; they repaired Jordan’s car, for free, and along the way they tricked it out a bit, adding a new stereo system, a better alarm, new tires, and tinted windows. They spent around 100 hours all told on a job that was worth over $10,000. As Jordan puts it, the car looks better now than it did when he first got it.
Jordan: 1. Bullies: 0.
I love this video of the grand reveal.
The story actually goes deeper than that – a number of local businesses pitched in to support the restoration of Jordan’s car, and I love that his community came together around him. It’s great not just for Jordan, who deeply appreciates his refurbished ride, but for his community. It sends a pretty clear message of zero tolerance for bullies, and that’s an important message to be sending these days, when it seems like bullies are everywhere, from Congress to the schoolyard.
Given that much of the vandalism took place on his own school campus, the restoration also sends a clear message to the university; what were they doing while all this was going on? Why weren’t they stepping in to support their gay student? How do they plan to prevent these kinds of crimes in the future? Colleges and universities have a responsibility to keep their students safe and to make sure campuses are focused on learning and fellowship, not bullying and abuse, and Radford clearly fell down on the job here.
(Photo via Flickr user TheColourSteph, Creative Commons license.)
There are a lot of stereotypes both about the South, and about the guys who work in auto body shops. A suggestion that both are typically homophobic, and that autoworkers are caught up in some sort of fog of testosterone and masculinity –- as though women aren’t mechanics as well. Jordan’s case clearly illustrates that these beliefs are outdated and rely on a simplistic view of Southerners and mechanics.
Sure, some Southerners are homophobic. So are some Yankees, though. And some autoworkers are definitely homophobic -– but there are also queers in auto shops, and allies, and people who honestly just don’t give a flying fart who you have sex with because they have better things to do with their time. Because homophobes are everywhere, but fortunately, so are the people who resist them. And a community can come together to support someone who’s been targeted by vandals to remind people that they are a community, and they’re there for each other.
For a study in contrasts, check out the Fagbug. When Erin Davies encountered homophobic graffiti on her car one morning, she decided to embrace it; she went on a meandering road trip in her car, educating communities about hate crimes and filming a documentary along the way. Today, the Fagbug is deliciously queertastic, complete with a rainbow paint job, pride flag, and, of course, the word “Fagbug” proudly emblazoned across its side. It’s an in-your-face confrontation to would-be bullies, an aggressive statement car.
(Photo via Flickr user cvander, Creative Commons license.)
What Erin did takes guts and being in the right place at the right time, to be able to put school on hold to turn an act of hate and vandalism into an act of activism and a teachable moment. It’s pretty awesome that she was able to do that, and her documentary on the experience is utterly fascinating.
But both their cases illustrate that anti-gay prejudice is far from a thing of the past in the United States, no matter where you live. Openly gay folks and people assumed to be gay are at risk not just of graffiti on their cars but other hate crimes, including beatings, rapes and murders. It’s a dangerous world to be gay, for all that people seem to think we live in an enlightened and safe era.
In many ways, things are better for the gay community than they ever have been. But Jordan’s case is a reminder that we have a long way to go.