Idaho Drag Performer Wins Over $1.1 Million in Defamation Suit Against Blogger

A drag performer in Idaho won more than $1.1 million in damages on Friday in a defamation lawsuit against a blogger who falsely claimed that he had exposed himself to a crowd that included children at an event two years ago.

The jury unanimously decided that the blogger, Summer Bushnell, had defamed the artist, Eric Posey, when she claimed in videos and comments online that Mr. Posey exposed his genitalia while dancing onstage during a pride event in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, even though he had not. It awarded Mr. Posey $926,000 in compensatory damages for defamation and another $250,000 in punitive damages, according to his lawyer, Wendy J. Olson.

“Can this guy be arrested for exposing his genitals to minors?” Ms. Bushnell wrote in one Facebook post, according to Mr. Posey’s complaint. Mr. Posey claimed that Ms. Bushnell’s online viewership soared as a result of those posts, while he “was exposed to hatred, contempt and ridicule.”

In an interview, Ms. Olson said that Ms. Bushnell’s false claims about Mr. Posey had a profound effect on his social life, employment prospects and mental health. “He was called names and racial slurs. He was harassed. He really shut down, emotionally,” she said.

Ms. Olson added in a statement that the verdict and the damages sent “the clear message that truth matters, that facts matter, and that you can’t dehumanize and damage someone to suit your own purposes.”

In recent years, far-right activists have increasingly targeted drag shows across the country. Protesters and conservative commentators have accused drag performers of targeting children, which has in many cases prompted angry demonstrations, harassment, abuse and threats of violence against drag artists. Some Republican-led states, including Florida and Tennessee, have sought to restrict the performances, though federal judges have not always been receptive to those efforts.

Mr. Posey, who performed under the name Mona Liza Million, started performing drag when he was 18 and has participated in drag shows off and on since then, according to the complaint. He had not performed drag for about five years before he agreed to participate in the Coeur d’Alene event on June 11, 2022.

That event, called Pride in the Park, prompted national news media coverage after 31 members of a white nationalist group called Patriot Front were arrested nearby. The police said the group had plans to riot at the event, and about a year later, five members were convicted of conspiracy to riot.

Ms. Bushnell, who runs a website called The Bushnell Report, posted a video about the arrests in June 2022. In it, she claimed that Mr. Posey had “flashed his genitalia to minors and people in the crowd.”

She later posted another video, of Mr. Posey dancing onstage, that was edited to blur his pelvic area, suggesting it was censoring nudity. But law enforcement officials later concluded that the unedited videos showed that Mr. Posey was clothed and did not expose himself.

In September 2022, shortly after Mr. Posey filed his lawsuit, Ms. Bushnell told The Idaho Statesman that she had not attended the pride event herself but had received footage of the performance from someone she declined to identify. “I put a blur because I didn’t want to be responsible for a minor seeing the genitals that are actually there,” she said.

D. Colton Boyles, a lawyer who represented Ms. Bushnell, told jurors that his client’s claims about Mr. Posey were “close to the line” but did not amount to defamation, The Coeur d’Alene Press reported.

After the verdict, Mr. Posey said in a statement, “I am so grateful that the jury was attentive, and that they rejected the lies that put me in a dark place for nearly two years.”

The North Idaho Pride Alliance, which planned the 2022 event, said in a statement that the outcome was “what we hoped for, and we deeply appreciate the jury’s dedication and careful consideration of the facts presented.”

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