POLK COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) — Jason DeShazo has dealt with far-right protestors at his events. He says other drag events have been canceled altogether.
DeShazo is a drag performer from Lakeland who hosts events for children and families across central Florida as “Momma Ashley Rose.”
“It’s an art. Shouldn’t art and expression be safe for all people?” he said. “It’s time that we speak out against hate and there is so much going on that is attacking the LGBTQ+ community. Who better to do it than someone in a wig and a dress?”
Dressed as “Momma Ashley Rose,” DeShazo urged members of the Judiciary Committee to vote against Senate Bill 1438 Tuesday in Tallahassee.
“I have a question. Do I look like a stripper?” the drag performer said to kick off 70 seconds of commentary. “Well politicians and ignorant people have been calling myself and many others strippers and I find it very insulting.”
Momma Ashley Rose told lawmakers that bills like SB1438 and similar rhetoric have led to Nazis protestors and death threats.
“We provide a safe space for people, for children, for families,” said Momma Ashley Rose. “I encourage you to vote no on this.”
The bill, called “Protection of Children,” would create penalties for venues that allow children to attend events that depict or simulate nudity, sexual conduct, lewd conduct or lewd exposure of prosthetic or imitation genitals or breasts.
“We have to take it seriously when a business knowingly admits children to view performances meant for an adult audience,” said Sen. Clay Yarborough, of Nassau County.
The penalties involve performances that are, as a whole “without serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value for the age of the child present,” the bill reads.
“The bill is very vague. It’s very hush hush about it. There’s a lot of room for interpretation,” DeShazo told News Channel 8 after he returned to Lakeland.
The bill does not refer to drag shows in its language nor did its sponsor use the word “drag” in his introduction.
But opponents, including DeShazo and the ACLU of Florida, and supporters talked about drag shows in their public comment.
“If children aren’t allowed in bars and strip clubs and nightclubs, why are they allowed at adult-oriented drag shows?” asked Anthony Verudo, founder and executive director of Christian Family Coalition.
“This bill is a big government overreach into the well-established daily freedoms of Floridians using an artificial moral panic to stoke fear and suspicion around the LGBTQ community. To my family and me, drag performances are a historic part of the human experience and can be a wonderful artistic expression of joy and fun,” Jonathan Webber, with the SPLC Action Fund.
The bill passed the Senate Judiciary Committee in an 8-3 vote.
“Too often, we’re seeing liberal progressives push their agendas on our children. As a Christian and a father, I cannot stand by and let that happen. I voted in support of SB 1438 to protect families and children across the Sunshine State,” Sen. Ben Albritton, a Republican who represents southern Polk County and Hardee County, wrote in a statement.
“Your boundaries could be far different than mine. That’s okay. But for the safety of children, there has to be some consensus of where at this point in time we think the boundaries are appropriate,” said Sen. Dennis Baxley, of Lake County.
DeShazo says there are already laws on the books that set boundaries to protect children.
“Where do we draw the line when we’re supposedly protecting children from the LGBTQ+ community? That’s what they’re trying to do,” he said.
DeShazo said a Lake Wales venue canceled one of his upcoming events due to threats.
DeShazo’s non-profit, the Rose Dynasty Foundation, had to relocate its annual pageant after concern from the venue about complying with state law.
This week, DeShazo’s third annual after-school “Drag and Donuts event” at Boone High School was canceled after criticism from a board member and state officials.
“The Department of Education questioned whether my participation was age and developmentally appropriate for teenagers. It has been proven that our events are positive, educational, and beneficial,” said DeShazo.