This story has been corrected to reflect that Allen Siders of New Port Richey was using a megaphone at the protest Sunday.
Pro- and anti-LGBTQ factions sparred verbally in front of the Massachusetts Avenue building housing ART/ifact Studios Sunday afternoon as a drag show and fundraiser took place inside.
“The Bible says that God hates all workers of inequity,” said Allen Siders, who attends KJV Baptist Church in New Port Richey. “God is calling you to repent today … God is going to judge you in righteousness. Look what God did to Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis 19. God rained fire and brimstone.”
Oklahoma street preacher Rich Penkoski, who traveled to Lakeland to protest the event, was also on the sidewalk. He protests drag shows throughout the country.
He, Siders and several other protestors were surrounded by supporters of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer community, who blew whistles and loudly and repeatedly snapped fans.
After a little more than a minute into their protest, a Lakeland Police officer told Siders he could not use a megaphone, which he immediately stopped doing. Several protestors, including a 13-year-old girl, have been arrested in the last couple of years in Lakeland for using megaphones.
Siders, Penkoski and other local protesters were outnumbered on the sidewalk by LGBTQ supporters. Multiple law enforcement officers from the Lakeland Police Department were also on hand.
LPD spokeswoman Stephanie Kerr said no arrests were made Sunday and there was no violence.
Inside ART/ifact, Jason DeShazo, who performs under the name Momma Ashley Rose, told a packed house that a week ago they had sold four tickets to the event. But the show sold out after a pastor and church members came to Monday’s City Commission meeting to ask commissioners to halt the performance in a city-owned building. Tickets were $30 each and $20 for children ages 9 and under.
ART/ifact leases the building from the city’s Community Redevelopment Agency and city leaders said they can’t restrict the lease holder from hosting activities unless they are illegal.
“Love will silence out the hate and it’s so easy to get caught up in it,” DeShazo told the crowd Sunday. “This week has shown me so much. Can I tell you how proud of Lakeland I am for the love that has come out of all of this – whatever it is. That was such a great representation of what we stand for and what we believe.”
The motto of DeShazo’s organization, the Rose Dyanasty Foundation, has long been “loved, accepted and wanted.”
DeShazo, 43, grew up in Okeechobee, the only child of conservative Christian parents who attended a Pentecostal church. He describes himself as a gay man who performs in drag, singing only family-friendly, inspirational songs to audiences of all persuasions.
“I have known I was gay since I was at least 7 or 8 years old,” DeShazo explained to LkldNow in December. “I did go through conversion therapy, which obviously did not work because it’s abuse. A religious organization forced me to go through it.”
He said his parents have been very supportive and loving – something he knows many in the lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, transgender, queer, plus community do not receive from their families.
DeShazo spent years as a pastor in LGBTQ churches before founding the non-profit Rose Dynasty Foundation, which raises money for various charities, mentors LGBTQ-plus youth, and works with children on the autism spectrum.
DeShazo hosts the Rose Dynasty Foundation Inc.’s “Mama and Friends Brunch,” once a month and donates most of the proceeds to various charities. He describes it as a family-friendly drag show.
The performers all lip-synched to various songs as they danced around the room wearing hand-made costumes on Sunday.
A lot of the proceeds raised this year have gone to support Camp Out, a summer camp for LGBTQ children where they will be safe from being bullied. It is held in a location that DeShazo has declined to identify. The Rose Dynasty Foundation Board would not allow a LkldNow reporter to attend a day of the camp for the protection of the children.
Rose Dynasty’s drag shows in Lakeland came to light last December when Neo-Nazis protested in front of another of the organization’s events, calling attendees pedophiles and groomers and yelling “Heil Hitler!” at audience members, including children.
Sam Jerome, 7, and his parents have followed Mama Ashely Rose’s story time since before COVID. DeShazo calls Sam his biggest little fan.
“We just have fun as a family,” said Sam’s mother, Katy Jerome. “There’s lots of music and dancing and their message is love and acceptance and that’s something we want to share with our son.”
Sam said he likes attending the shows. DeShazo allows Sam to choose a book and read it to other children during the story time portion of the show.
“It’s very fun,” he said, adding that he wants to grow up and take over running the shows.
Coretta Vanterpool brought her 16-year-old daughter Rylie Jackson to the show.
“I wanted her to get a different experience so she can see how life is,” Vanterpool said. “She can see everyone has a choice. It doesn’t matter who you love, how you love or who you are.”
Video – Inside and outside the drag show:
During the protest, Rick Levengood gave a thumbs up to Siders’ street preaching, but then backed away from him when he heard his rhetoric.
“I just want people to know that God loves them,” Levengood said, adding he was not there with a group, but was “with God. To me, the condemning I hear is not from God. I was homosexual for 40 years of my life and God set me free.”
Lakeland resident Jenny Ellis, 53, began crying when she heard what Siders was saying as she walked into the building.
“Because that’s not the gospel I represent,” she said. “This hatred is not who I am as a Christian. I just don’t think that’s what Jesus would’ve done. There’s no place for hatred.”
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