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  • Tara Crutchfield

Rose Dynasty Foundation

Eight years ago, Jason DeShazo sat in the crowd of a Dixie Longate drag show. “I don’t think I laughed and cried so much in one sitting outside of church ever,” he said. In her affected southern drawl, Dixie, America’s own Tupperware queen, told a simple story about “bumping a duck.” It goes something like this. There’s a duck in the middle of a calm lake. If you throw a stone into the lake, it ripples and bumps the duck. “If you can just be one stone to bump a duck, to cause a reaction, what kind of difference could you make in the world,” DeShazo said. “It immediately changed my life.” That’s when DeShazo, who performs as Momma Ashley Rose, moved forward with starting the charitable organization, Rose Dynasty Foundation. 

Born in Plant City and raised in Okeechobee, “I grew up in a very conservative home,” DeShazo said. The family attended church several days a week. “I’ve always known I was gay.” Coming out in the early 80s amid the AIDS epidemic was a dangerous time for anyone, he said. “There was a lot of fear instilled already.” In his teens, DeShazo endured conversion therapy. “It just wasn’t going to work,” he said. “I did everything I knew I could do to try to change what I thought, and what I was being told, was not right.” In true Momma Ashley Rose fashion, DeShazo found humor in the midst of pain, joking, “It gave me three things: It gave me my therapist, it made me gayer, and it made me a drag queen.” 


DeShazo was involved in both mainstream and LGBTQ+ churches for many years. After serving in the ministry, he found something to be missing. “There was more to what I believed in my life that needed to be done,” he said. 


Loved, Accepted, and Wanted 


For the duration of this story, I will refer to DeShazo as she and her because, really, my interview wasn’t with DeShazo – it was with Momma. 


A dynasty, by definition, is a family, and the Rose Dynasty Foundation is no different. Momma started the organization with her husband, Scott DeShazo. Rose Dynasty Vice President Scott DeShazo, who performs as Amanduh Rose, said, “Every great person needs a good backbone.” Together for 15 years, Scott also makes all of Momma’s costumes, including the patchwork dress she wore that day, made with her great-grandmother’s hand-stitched material. She completed the look with a pair of rhinestone sneakers. 


Momma Ashley Rose started experimenting with drag in 2000 when a local drag queen painted her for a Halloween Party. “I loved it. I absolutely loved it,” she said. This persona was someone she wanted to bring to the world. “I never wanted to be the stereotypical queen.” When she first started performing as Momma, she was a bit “churchy” and even did a few gospel shows. Her drag changed and sometimes stopped entirely for a year or two before finding her way back to it. “Every time I evolved and really made a change of growing into what ‘Momma’ and this organization is now.” 


“I believed that what I needed to do was establish a safe space for all people,” Momma said. More important than the flashy costumes, elaborate makeup, and side-splitting one-liners is her message, “You are loved, accepted, and wanted,” something she intones at every event. “We’ve all felt that, whether you’re Queer or not. We’ve all felt unloved, unwanted, or unaccepted at some point in our life. Any human being has felt that way. I knew it was a message that people needed to hear, including myself.” 


The organization has been a safe space for folks like 19-year-old Florida Southern College student Adam Reuther. Reuther, who performs as Mistah Aphrodite, started doing drag two years ago. Their first performance was at a charity event with Rose Dynasty. The versatility and art – horror, camp, glamour, across the gender spectrum – drew them to performing. “There’s so much to explore,” they said. “Doing good while performing, raising money, is a very satisfying feeling because I’m doing something I love, and I’m making the world better.”


Working with the organization has given the music education major a new understanding of how the world works “in both good ways and bad.” They said, “It’s disheartening to see that there are people out there trying to crush someone’s individual spirit for just existing.” Locally, Mistah Aphrodite says they’ve been surrounded by support for their art from family, friends, and fellow students. “What’s most shocking about Polk County is the love is so much more outspoken than the hate.”


Rose Dynasty Foundation provides a safe space and entertainment for all ages while raising money for charities across Polk County, Central Florida, and beyond. They host events to raise funds for organizations like CampOUT, Florida’s first LGBTQ+ summer camp, and the FitzLane Project, which provides funding to underprivileged transgender youth for LGBTQIA+ specialized therapeutic services at the mental health provider of their choice.  


“We focus on the small charities that don’t get the government funding that are still making a difference,” Momma said. The Polk County Bully Project, Red Tent Initiative, It Takes a Village feeding families during Covid, Art Crawl, domestic violence shelters, autism, children’s hospitals, and cancer research are just some of the 70 charitable efforts for which they’ve raised hundreds of thousands of dollars over the years. The organization’s primary fundraiser is Miss Rose Dynasty, the world’s only family-friendly charity-based drag pageant. This year they raised $28K for five charities. 


Their goal is to one day have a community center in town. Momma envisions a space that offers food, life skills classes, therapy, a venue for events, and a safe space for the Queer community. 

Some oppose their family-friendly philanthropic events, calling them ‘adult’ and ‘inappropriate.’ “I encourage people to come to our events and see what’s happening. If you don’t leave with your mind changed, that’s something that you need to deal with,” Momma said.


She cited classic movies and television shows like “Mrs. Doubtfire” and “I Love Lucy,” in which drag was predominantly featured as comedic relief for the whole family. While there are undoubtedly adult drag performers, that is not what Rose Dynasty promotes. “This has been around for a long time, and if it’s being sexualized, it’s not by the drag queens. It’s by the people that are closed-minded looking in,” Momma said. “A child, when they walk up to me, they see the same thing as when they see Cinderella. They see any other princess, any other character. They just see someone that they feel safe with that has a positive message that’s sparkly, and glittery, and shiny.”


Hate Won’t Win


On December 3rd last year, at a family-friendly drag and art show, a hate group protested the event. Some dozen Neo-Nazis, covering their faces, turned up at ART/ifact Studio in Lakeland to disrupt the fundraising efforts. Momma Ashley Rose noted they’d held events for six years at the venue and never once had a protestor make a scene. “I knew one day it was coming,” she said. “But I had no clue it was going to be Nazis.” 


About an hour before the event, as Queer artists from around the county geared up to sell their artwork to raise money for CampOUT, Momma got a phone call. A concerned parent contacted her from a parking lot down the road to say they were scared because they’d seen protestors with Nazi signs outside the gallery. They immediately locked down the venue to make sure everyone was safe, and the Lakeland Police Department arrived on the scene. “Lakeland Police Department did really well. I believe they did the best of their ability,” Momma said. “They made sure we were protected, that the doors were sealed, that no one came in unless we let them. They stayed until we were done.” 


Mistah Aphrodite was there that day too. “I was angry. I was pissed off because I’m here dedicating my time and energy to raise money for people in need. We have children here who want to showcase their art, who want to do something they love, and there are people outside screaming curse words, screaming slurs,” they said. 


The protesters blocked the window with a 20-foot sign and projected offensive things onto the side of the building.


They held antisemitic signs and yelled “things that no child should have to hear” at kids as they walked with their parents into the event. “Rose Dynasty has helped me manage my own reactions,” Mistah Aphrodite said. “It’s taught me to be composed on the outside, so I didn’t do anything rash. I stayed inside and made sure everyone else was doing okay, everyone else was safe.” 


Despite the disruption, the event went on. “We’re not going to let hate win,” Momma said. 

The incident did shake the organization, though. They now have to spend hundreds of dollars for security at every event. It’s another weight on the philanthropist’s shoulders. “We’re working on active shooter training, on how to handle protestors. We’re trying to get as prepared as we can for the ‘what ifs,’” Momma said. She lost several friends in the Pulse nightclub shooting. This hits close to home. “It’s scary,” she said. 


“Drag queens are supposedly causing harm to children when our children are having to do active shooter drills in school,” Momma added. “And here we are raising hundreds of thousands of dollars for charity, helping the community, and we’re having to think about active shooter training. […] We shouldn’t have to think about that, and it all stems from the hate that we have allowed to come into our country in the last several years.” 


Speaking Out


Momma Ashley Rose spoke both in and out of drag against SB 1438. The Florida chapter of the ACLU described SB 1438 as “a bill that grants state agencies the power to target LGBTQ+ friendly businesses by giving the Department of Business and Professional Regulation discretionary authority to fine, revoke liquor licenses, and even shut down establishments. Additionally, it makes it a crime to admit young people to any performance, exhibit, play, or show that the state deems inappropriate, even if the child’s parents think it is appropriate for their family.”


The bill, introduced by Florida Republican Senators Clay Yarborough and Keith Perry, passed 82 to 32 on April 19.


“At face value, it shouldn’t affect us,” Momma said. But it has given them pause to consider how they run the organization. “Do we rename it? Do I stop doing drag? I don’t want to, and I’m not planning on it. It’s going to cost legal services. It’s going to risk going to jail. It’s going to risk losing venues – which we have already.”


“It’s a blatant attack on the Queer community,” she went on. “It’s a blatant attack on the drag community. It’s a distraction from something else, from something bigger. […] When you look at the people making these accusations, they’re deflecting something, and it’s sad. […] Our suicide rate in our LGBTQ+ community is skyrocketing again, and it’s because of this fear-mongering that’s happening.”


Out of the emotions Mistah Aphrodite feels about the bill, fear is not one of them. “I think the bill is just a thinly veiled attack on the Queer community as a whole because people have been entertained by drag for centuries, if not eons,” they said. “Dating back to ancient Greece, you would have men playing female roles on stage. You have all these classic TV shows and cartoons of characters in drag, and it was never a problem then. There are photos of past political leaders doing drag, and I’ve heard the excuse, ‘It was just in good fun.’ Well, what are we doing? Are we not having fun?”


Rose Dynasty may now have to find more creative ways to raise funds for charity. They’ve already lost thousands of dollars a month in donations from businesses having to choose between continuing to host their drag events or risk losing their business. “It puts fear and more stress on entertainers. Not just myself but my brothers and sisters who are drag performers. What are they going to do? The restaurants are already canceling. The brunches are already closing. It not only puts a damper on the entertainment industry, it puts a damper on people’s income and for the charities we raise money for.”


“The people backing these laws will never set foot in one of our events, and I’ve invited them,” Momma said. “They want to believe the hate they believe.” 


To counter the hate and anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric and legislation, “Be an action ally,” Momma urges. “People claim to be allies, but if you’re sitting and not doing anything and you’re not helping, you’re not being an ally. If you’re being quiet and not having conversations, not donating, you’re not an action ally. We really need action allies.” 


“Use your voice to amplify ours,” said Mistah Aphrodite. 


A Ripple 


Momma is a fighter. Sitting for dozens of interviews, speaking in front of the Florida senate, and continuing to be outspoken on Queer issues have garnered her hateful messages and death threats.

Asked why she carries on, her husband spoke up, “Who else is going to do it?”


Momma’s eyes welled up with tears as she said, “Who else? I wish I had somebody like me when I was young. We all wish we had somebody like ourselves. Who else is going to fight? Who else is going to stand up for these people? Who else is going to stand up for the community?”


She hopes, if not a multitude, at least one person will be changed by her words. “If nothing else, it’s shown us that people are watching, and people are listening, and it’s giving people hope. That’s why I do what I do. That’s why I spread this message of love and acceptance,” she said. “If it stops somebody from ending their life. If it stops somebody from feeling hurt, distraught – it would be worth it.” 


Scott DeShazo added in a hopeful tone, “It just takes a ripple.”  


Photographs by Amy Sexson


Rose Dynasty Foundation 

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