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

An Idaho drag performer was awarded more than $1.1 million in damages after a far-right blogger falsely accused the performer of exposing himself in the presence of children.

According to court documents, Eric Posey, of Post Falls, Idaho, whose drag name is Mona Liza Million, performed at a Pride event in Coeur d’Alene in June 2022. It’s the same Pride event in which 31 members of the white supremacist group Patriot Front were arrested for a plot to disrupt the event. They were found packed into the back of a U-Haul truck with riot gear.

Shortly after the event, blogger Summer Bushnell reportedly shared a doctored video on social media and accused Posey of exposing his genitals in front of the crowd. 

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

The lawsuit states that Bushnell knew the video was altered, "but she lied anyway to gain popularity on social media."

"Her plan worked: her false statements and doctored video received nearly 19 times more

views than each of her prior 10 videos. But Bushnell’s publicity was not free; it came at the expense of Posey’s reputation," the lawsuit states. 

Posey’s lawyer, Wendy J. Olson, told The New York Times that the video significantly impacted Posey’s mental health, employment prospects and social life. 

"He was called names and racial slurs. He was harassed. He really shut down, emotionally," she told The Times.

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An Idaho jury sided with Posey on May 24, awarding 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.

Bushnell’s lawyer argued it was her "honest belief" that Posey exposed himself, though she admitted on the witness stand that she wasn’t at the event and never saw the "fully exposed genitals," The Coeur d’Alene/Post Falls Press reported. 

Drag is the art of dressing and acting exaggeratedly as another gender, usually for entertainment such as comedy, singing, dancing, lip-syncing or all of the above. Drag does not typically involve nudity or stripping, which are more common in burlesque, a separate form of entertainment. Explicitly sexual and profane language is common in performances meant for adult audiences, but they typically keep it PG for family-friendly audiences. 

Across the country, drag has been cast in a misleading light by right-wing activists and politicians who complain about the "sexualization" or "grooming" of children.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.