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Idaho drag performer awarded $1.1 million in defamation case against far-right blogger

A woman posted a doctored video that she claimed showed the performer exposed himself to a crowd during a Pride event in 2022.
Drag Queen Defamation Case
Posted at 7:53 AM, May 28, 2024

A jury has awarded more than $1.1 million to an Idaho drag performer who accused a far-right blogger of defaming him when she falsely claimed that he exposed himself to a crowd, including children, during a Pride event in June 2022.

The Kootenai County District Court jury unanimously found Friday that Summer Bushnell defamed Post Falls resident Eric Posey when she posted a doctored video of his performance with a blurred spot that she claimed covered his “fully exposed genitals,” the Coeur D'Alene Press reported.

In reality, the unedited video showed no indecent exposure, and prosecutors declined to file charges.

“The judicial system did what needed to be done,” Posey said after the verdict.

Jurors awarded Posey $926,000 in compensatory damages for defamation. Because Posey proved that Bushnell knew her allegations were false when she made them or that she made the accusations with reckless disregard for the truth, the jury awarded $250,000 in additional punitive damages.

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Posey, who uses the stage name Mona Liza Million, performed three times at the Pride in the Park celebration wearing a long-sleeve leotard, black shorts and tights, with a shiny metallic boa around his waist. He did not remove clothing.

The Pride event made national news at the time — not because of Posey’s performances, but because 31 members of a white supremacist group called Patriot Front were arrested nearby and charged with conspiracy to riot.

Bushnell posted a video that day of herself discussing the mass arrest as well as footage from Posey’s performance.

“Why did no one arrest the man in a dress who flashed his genitalia to minors and people in the crowd?” she said. “No one said anything about it, and there’s video. I’m going to put up a blurred video to prove it.”

The next day Bushnell published the edited version of the video, which she obtained from a local videographer. It garnered many thousands of views, sparking national news coverage and a police investigation. She suggested he had committed a felony and urged people to call police and have him arrested.

Bushnell was expressionless as she hurried out of the courtroom Friday.

Her attorney, Colton Boyles, told jurors that his client’s allegations were “close to the line” but not defamatory. He maintained that Bushnell’s “honest belief” was that Posey exposed himself, though she admitted on the witness stand that she never saw the “fully exposed genitals” she described to others.

After hearing the verdict, Posey burst into tears and embraced his lawyers and friends.

“The jury’s verdict demonstrates a clear message to this community that you have to be truthful,” said Wendy J. Olson, one of his attorneys.

Posey said he has faced death threats and harassment, and the edited images became the symbol of a national movement against drag. Experts have warned that false rhetoric against drag queens and LGBTQ+ people may inflame extremists.

Posey said he has been helped by support from his friends.

“Imagine being in a dark hole where you have nobody and you felt the whole world turn their back on you,” he said in court Thursday. “But somehow, you were surrounded by warriors, true people of Idaho — not transplants, true people of this soil. I am fortunate to say I have people like that around me, people that lifted me up.”

The jury deliberated for about three and a half hours Friday after a five-day trial. Before returning the verdict, jurors asked the court if they could direct Bushnell to take down her posts about Posey and publicly apologize to him. First District Judge Ross Pittman, who presided over the trial, indicated they could not do so.

As of Friday evening, the videos remained on Bushnell’s website and Facebook page, the Coeur D'Alene Press reported.

Following the verdict, jurors approached Posey outside the courthouse to shake his hand or hug him.

“I’m so sorry you went through this,” one told him.