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Orlando Sentinel
Orlando Sentinel
Matthew J. Palm

Amid legal uncertainty, charitable drag pageant moves fundraiser

ORLANDO, Fla. — A nonprofit that mentors and supports LGBTQ students has moved its biggest fundraiser of the year — an adult drag pageant titled “Miss Rose Dynasty” — from Orlando to Kissimmee just days before the annual event.

Event organizer Jason DeShazo worries that the sudden shift in plans will reduce the amount of money raised for his Lakeland-based nonprofit Rose Dynasty Foundation and other charities that would benefit from the March 4 pageant’s proceeds.

“Our organization is going to be hit very hard,” said foundation president DeShazo, but he felt he had no choice but to relocate the fundraiser, billed as the nation’s only family-friendly drag pageant, after the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts in downtown Orlando decided to implement an age restriction on who could attend.

The arts center’s decision to limit the event to those 18 and older results from the uncertainty surrounding drag entertainment following a state agency’s complaint over a December performance of “A Drag Queen Christmas” at the Plaza Live in Orlando. The complaint from the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation could cost the Orlando Philharmonic Plaza Foundation its ability to serve liquor — a significant source of revenue for an entertainment venue.

“We just need clarity,” said arts center spokeswoman Jacklyne Ramos. “At the end of the day, we just want to operate legally.”

DeShazo, a former pastor of an LGBTQ church, said he understood the concerns of the arts center, which has hosted the pageant multiple times. But that doesn’t alleviate his worries that his organization, which became a 501(c)(3) nonprofit in 2019, is now in the state government’s crosshairs.

“We’re the ‘Disney Channel of drag,’” said DeShazo, who points to the organization’s mission statement that all events would be appropriate for any age. “But now we have a target on our back.”

Because the organization mentors students, they often come to the fundraisers, DeShazo said. At the pageant, some perform a dance number — although not in drag, which is reserved for the adult contestants.

The arts center’s age restriction would have barred them from the event.

“Our vision and mission and purpose is all of our events are family-friendly,” he said. “There are children in this show, and I’m not telling them they can’t come.”

But the presence of minors at a drag performance is key to the state agency’s complaint over “A Drag Queen Christmas,” a national touring show.

The Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation says in its complaint that the Orlando Philharmonic Plaza Foundation, which oversees the Plaza Live, failed to prevent minors from attending the Dec. 28 show — although signs on the venue doors warned parents the show’s content could be unsuitable for those younger than 18.

The foundation faces six civil counts of statute violations, including admitting children onto a licensed premises where performers conduct simulations of sexual activity constituting lewdness, unlawful exposure of sexual organs, engaging or permitting disorderly conduct and maintaining a nuisance on the licensed premises.

In light of that incident, Ramos said the Dr. Phillips Center contacted four state agencies, including the Department of Business and Professional Regulation.

“Due to recent uncertainties regarding age-appropriate content at drag shows and pageants across statewide venues, we began working with several state agencies to seek clarification of Florida statutes to confirm compliance,” she said. “We have not received any clarification on the Florida statutes in question.”

While awaiting a response, the arts center offered the foundation the chance to postpone the show or hold it with an adult-only audience.

With time running out, DeShazo felt it was unfair to change the nature of the event — “There are too many people counting on this,” he said — so he declined.

“We fully respect their decision and look forward to hosting the event in the future,” Ramos said.

The arts center notified ticket holders of the venue change and continued to promote the event on its website. But technological requirements meant the center had to issue refunds to patrons, who then had to rebook their tickets on the foundation’s website, Tickets will also be available at the door before Saturday’s 6:30 p.m. show.

DeShazo hopes the inconvenience and confusion won’t deter supporters from attending the event, now a few miles from Walt Disney World at the Wyndham Orlando Resort, 3011 Maingate Lane in Kissimmee.

It took effort — and lots of phone calls — to find a new location on such short notice.

“A couple places were hesitant and said they didn’t feel comfortable hosting us,” he said. “We have had to spend more money, which comes out of what we were raising for us and six charities.”

The pageant includes an evening gown competition, and question-and-answer sessions — “like any pageant would,” said DeShazo, who has arranged extra security measures for the event.

Last year, the event raised $30,000, distributed to the foundation and charities selected by the pageant contestants. The Rose Dynasty Foundation also holds events such as drag story time, drag bingo and dinner and variety shows to support its initiatives for LGBTQ youths.

In December, the group’s “Celebration of the Arts” show in Lakeland was picketed by neo-Nazis, many of them masked. Some displayed a banner reading, “Drag queens are pedophiles with AIDS.”

“This is an example of how the climate that we are in today has pushed extremists and given them a voice,” DeShazo told The (Lakeland) Ledger at the time. “Rose Dynasty Foundation will continue to provide a safe space for all people — it’s just a shame that these are the type of things we have to worry about.”

The Dr. Phillips Center has a few other drag shows on its schedule. The next, the 17th annual National Miss Comedy Queen Pageant on March 23, carries a warning: “Adult Content, intended for mature audiences. Under 18 should be accompanied by parent. Parents should use discretion when deciding what shows are appropriate for their children.”

Ramos said the arts center has no intention of determining or evaluating the content of the shows it hosts and hopes the pageant will be able to return.

“It’s very much an open door for next time,” she said.

And DeShazo says he is not opposed to an Orlando comeback.

“I have no hard feelings toward the Dr. Phillips Center,” which has hosted the pageant multiple times, he said. “But I wish things could have been different.”


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