Jason DeShazo, a Lakeland, Florida, man who performs in drag as Momma Ashley Rose, had expected to visit an Orlando high school Thursday to speak to its gay-straight alliance.
Instead, DeShazo learned the day before the event that the Florida Department of Education had forced the cancellation of “Drag and Donuts” as part of a statewide crackdown led by Gov. Ron DeSantis and state legislators on drag activities around minors.
Both DeShazo and the principal of Boone High School emphasized that the voluntary, after-school event was not a drag show. DeShazo said he planned to speak to members of the school’s Queer and Ally Alliance about life as a gay man and answer any questions students had.
He said he has spoken many times to such clubs at after-school events, including at least three in Polk County. It would have been his third or fourth time speaking at Boone, he said. He asks the clubs if they would rather have him appear as himself or in drag, and he said the students almost invariably ask for “Momma.”
Charity raises money for LGBT youth
DeShazo, 43, runs the Momma Rose Dynasty, a charitable foundation that raises money to support LGBTQ youth.
The cancelation apparently followed criticism by Orange County School Board member Alicia Farrant, a member of Moms for Liberty, a conservative group. Farrant posted on Facebook saying that schools should not be “inviting drag queens in to eat donuts with our children,” the Orlando Sentinel reported.
DeShazo said he awoke Wednesday to emails and screenshots of Farrant’s post. He said he soon spoke to an administrator at Boone High, who confirmed that the event would still go on. A school official later called after consulting with a lawyer and gave DeShazo a list of activities that would not be allowed, he said.
He emphasized that he doesn’t wear skimpy outfits, use foul or bawdy language or perform in a risqué manner. He describes his drag character as a matronly Southern lady and calls himself “the Disney channel of drag.”
But later Wednesday, DeShazo said, Boone Principal Hector Maestre called to tell him the meeting with the students had been canceled. He said Maestre “was very upset that he had to cancel. It was due to the Department of Education was threatening the administration of removing their, I guess, their licensing and losing their jobs, if they went through with this.”
DeShazo said that he learned that school employees received death threats after news spread about the planned club event.
County under pressure from Florida officials
Orange County Public Schools released a statement:
“One of the after-school student clubs invited a guest speaker to attend their regularly scheduled meeting. The event Donuts & Drag was not a drag show, but an opportunity for the students to hear a positive message of acceptance and love. This was to be the third year the speaker has addressed this club.
“As a result of a call from the Florida Department of Education, the event has been canceled. The Department questioned whether the event was age and developmentally appropriate and indicated any administrator, teacher, or staff member in attendance may be investigated and jeopardize their professional license.”
The Department of Education did not immediately respond to a request for comment sent Thursday morning.
DeShazo said a monthly event he hosts at a restaurant in Lake Wales has also been cancelled indefinitely in response to threats and a loss of business.
“Churches and all these people were sharing hateful stuff about the events,” he said. “So it’s literally been like back-to-back stuff this week. It’s not just at Boone. It’s stuff that’s happening in our own town.”