Neo-Nazi Group Protests Outside Drag Event in Lakeland

Image via screengrab/The Ledger, Jason DeShazo

By Giselle Balido

December 6, 2022

Shouts of “Heil, Hitler!” were heard, as extremist-related incidents continue to rise across Florida.

Carrying Nazi flags and performing Hitler salutes, a group of men waved a sign that read “Drag Queens Are Pedophiles with AIDS!” Saturday night outside an event that featured drag performances. 

Most of the men hid behind masks, hats, and sunglasses as they protested “A Celebration of the Arts,” a show held at ART/Ifact Studios, just north of downtown Lakeland. The representative from the protesting group claimed they were not Lakeland residents.

A video captured a man carrying a black flag with the black sun, a symbol commonly used by some neo-Nazi groups, as words that read “Warning: Child grooming in process” and “Pedophilia must be punished by death” were projected onto a building on N. Massachusetts Ave.  

Jason DeShazo, who organized the event and performs as the drag queen Momma Ashley Rose, heard shouts of “Heil Hitler!” 

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“This is an example of how the climate that we are in today has pushed extremists and given them a voice,” said DeShazo, who describes his shows as family friendly and rejects the claim that drag shows are intended to “groom” children into being gay.

A Dangerous Trend

Earlier this year, ADL, a Jewish organization formerly known as the Anti-Defamation League, reported that extremist-related incidents rose by 71% in Florida from 2020 to 2021. 

“We’ve all heard the hate speech coming from around the country that really is zeroing in on drag performers, LGBTQ people and now very specifically drag performers,” said Scott Guira, the president of Polk Pride.

In Florida alone, research that analyzed social media posts finds that hateful references to gays, lesbians, and other LGBTQ people surged online after Florida passed a law that bars instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity in kindergarten through third grade.

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Similarly, references to “grooming” rose by more than 400% in the month after Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” measure was approved, according to a report released by the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), one of the nation’s largest LGBTQ advocacy groups, and the Center for Countering Digital Hate, a nonprofit group that tracks online extremism.

Moving Forward

The event proceeded despite the protest and generated $2,500 to benefit his charity, Rose Dynasty Foundation, and Camp Out, a nonprofit that hosts summer camps for LGBTQ-plus youth.

DeShazo says that although he has received threats, he will continue doing his work.

“I’m not going anywhere. I’m not. We’re gonna continue to do what we do and I’m gonna continue providing that safe space for me wherever I can,” he said, adding that the mission of his nonprofit organization is to ensure every person feels “loved, accepted and wanted.”


  • Giselle Balido

    Giselle is Floricua's political correspondent. She writes about the economy, environmental and social justice, and all things Latino. A published author, Giselle was born in Havana and grew up in New Jersey and Miami. She is passionate about equality, books, and cats.



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