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Polk's first LGBTQ+ center has been open a month and already plans to grow

The Rose Dynasty Foundation officially opened Polk County's first LGBTQ+ center in Lakeland on June 9, 2024. Founder Jason DeShazo, known locally as drag perormer "Momma Ashley Rose," said the center will expand in early 2025 to encompass the other half of the building it's renting.
Rose Dynasty Foundation
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The Rose Dynasty Foundation officially opened Polk County's first LGBTQ+ center in Lakeland on June 9, 2024. Founder Jason DeShazo, known locally as drag perormer "Momma Ashley Rose," said the center will expand in early 2025 to encompass the other half of the building it's renting.

An organization that started seven years ago as a drag pageant opened Polk County's first LGBTQ+ center in Lakeland last month.

Jason DeShazo, also known as drag performer Momma Ashley Rose, is the founder of Rose Dynasty Foundation, which opened the Rose Dynasty Center in Lakeland last month.
Daylina Miller
Jason DeShazo, also known as drag performer Momma Ashley Rose, is the founder of Rose Dynasty Foundation, which opened the Rose Dynasty Center in Lakeland last month.

The Rose Dynasty Foundation and Resiliency Center allows queer people to gather without having to drive to a larger city like Tampa or Orlando. It also hosts a primary care clinic and offers mental health counseling services.

Jason DeShazo, the founder of the Rose Dynasty Foundation, is known locally as drag performer “Momma Ashley Rose.”

He said in light of a historic number of bills being proposed and passed that impact the LGBTQ+ community, safe spaces are needed now more than ever.

“I wanted to have a building where people can come together and have support groups, have mental health, have physical health, throw events, throw parties, throw potlucks, community, whatever, and to provide resources to the community,” DeShazo said.

What Rose Dynasty center offers

The center at 1253 W. Memorial Blvd., Lakeland, hosts an array of events from youth group and elder socials, to banned book bingo and queer recovery meetings.

DeShazo said a recent senior social cafe was a hit — and indicative of how much a center like this is needed.

"These are queer people that grew up here and have been here for 40-50 years. And aside from certain affirming congregations, and maybe Pride events, they've not had a center to come to. So it's just been overwhelmingly positive and amazing."

The Rose Dynasty Center in Lakeland hosts many social groups and events for the LGBTQ+ community.
Daylina Miller
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WUSF
The Rose Dynasty Center in Lakeland hosts many social groups and events for the LGBTQ+ community.

Folks in the community can also schedule medical appointments with Pineapple Healthcare, which offers primary care and services like rapid HIV testing.

Ethan Suarez, the chief executive officer of Pineapple Healthcare, said the clinic’s services fill a gap in low cost, affordable health care services for LGBTQ+ people.

“90% of the staff is queer, or identifies as LGBT. So it has a cultural competency. We feel it's friends taking care of friends.”

How it got started

For years, the Rose Dynasty Foundation has been raising money for local charities through pageants, bingos, brunches and variety shows.

The Rose Dynasty Center waiting room serves people waiting on primary care appointments with Pineapple Health providers and mental health counseling, and can be repurposed for events.
Daylina Miller
The Rose Dynasty Center waiting room serves people waiting on primary care appointments with Pineapple Health providers and mental health counseling, and can be repurposed for events.

DeShazo said their Drag Queen Storytime events were popular, the first one attended by 75 people.

In recent years, anti-LGBTQ+ legislation put a spotlight on the community, and groups like Moms For Liberty and the Proud Boys began protesting story time events across the country.

Rose Dynasty’s events were similarly affected. Two years ago, the group’s annual “Celebration of the Arts” attracted protesters.

“We had 12 neo-Nazis show up outside of our building. And thus began a crazy spiral for us of being worried about safety …we had flown safely for a while and it took a group of neo-Nazis to show up to kind of light a fire under other people's behinds to start protesting and start spreading hate and everything.”

“They were yelling and screaming at kids and projecting ‘pedophile’ and different things on the side of the building.”

DeShazo said he and his husband even received death threats and stalkers. But in the end, he said, the community stepped up their support for the organization.

Orlando-based Pineapple Health oversees primary health care appointments, as well as sexually transmitted infection testing, and more.
Daylina Miller
/
WUSF
Orlando-based Pineapple Health oversees primary health care appointments, as well as sexually transmitted infection testing, and more.

“It showed me that this community had more love in it than we thought that Polk County had, a lot more love to offer than what we see on the surface. And that's when people began to show up, people began to show up and counterprotest, and our events began to be sold out.”

Looking forward

DeShazo said the center will expand in early 2025 to encompass the other half of the building it's renting, going from 2,300 to almost 5,000 square feet of space.

“All of our clinical stuff will go on that side and then the center’s community side, we have this side. But the great thing is, is there's 11 offices,” DeShazo said.

“So we'll have more clinical rooms, we'll have more therapy rooms. We're toying with the idea of bringing in a massage therapist and maybe some other type of community resources.”

He also plans to expand the "banned book library" onsite, and is considering a food pantry and clothing closet for the center’s future.

Ideally, he said, he’d like to open additional centers in rural parts of Florida and other southern states someday.

The Rose Dynasty Center has a banned book library that it plans to expand.
Daylina Miller
The Rose Dynasty Center has a banned book library that it plans to expand.

Copyright 2024 WUSF Public Media - WUSF 89.7

Daylina Miller, multimedia reporter for Health News Florida, was hired to help further expand health coverage statewide.