Florida high school student club’s ‘drag & donuts’ event canceled after criticism by board member, state leaders

Tribune Content Agency

ORLANDO, Fla. — A Boone High School LGBTQ student club’s plans for a “drag & donuts” meeting after school Thursday was canceled after criticism from a conservative member of the Orange County School Board and Florida’s Education Commissioner.

The Queer and Ally Alliance at the Orlando school planned to gather for the third year in a row with Jason DeShazo, a Lakeland man who performs as Momma Ashley Rose. DeShazo bills himself as “the Disney channel of drag,” and and runs a charitable foundation that mentors and supports LGBTQ students.

In a recorded phone message to parents sent Wednesday afternoon, Boone Principal Hector Maestre said the after-school gathering “was not a drag show” but “an opportunity for students to hear “a positive message of acceptance and love.”

The event was canceled after the Florida Department of Education questioned whether it was “age and developmentally appropriate and indicated any administrator, teacher or staff member in attendance may be investigated and jeopardize their professional license,” Maestre’s message said.

Earlier Wednesday, Alicia Farrant, a Moms for Liberty member elected to the Orange school board in November, denounced the after-school event in a Facebook post.

“I am looking into this to get further details but would like parents to know that I do NOT condone this type of event,” wrote Farrant, whose school board district includes Boone. “We need to be RAISING the standard of excellence in our schools and helping students excel academically, not inviting drag queens in to eat donuts with our children.”

Drag shows have become a flashpoint in Florida in the last year. A state agency moved to pull the liquor license of Plaza Live in Orlando because of a December performance of “A Drag Queen Christmas” that children were allowed to attend, and GOP lawmakers now in session in Tallahassee are considering legislation that critics say seeks to limit drag shows.

DeShazo, who appeared in drag to testify against one of those bills Tuesday, said his meeting at Boone would not be a drag show. He planned to “share my story as a queer person,” share his message of “everyone is loved and accepted and wanted for who they are” and answer students’ questions. He met with the Boone club members in previous years and has met with teenagers in Gay Straight Alliance clubs at many other Florida high schools, he said.

His character and performances are appropriate for all ages, with his typical costume a long gown or dress, often of a “50s-style Mom,” he said. “Nothing I do is lewd. And nothing I do is sexual.”

He said the student group asked him to appear in drag but he would have happily gone in everyday clothes if the teenagers preferred.

At the State Board of Education’s meeting Wednesday, board member Esther Byrd asked Education Commissioner Manny Diaz if he knew about the “drag show” at Boone High.

Diaz said he had heard about it and was instructing staff to get from information from Orange County Public Schools.

“I don’t understand how teachers and principals think that sponsoring such an event is proper,” Diaz said. “This seems highly inappropriate.”

Ryan Petty, another State Board member, criticized the school and OCPS on Twitter for the planned event. “The argument that this is student organized is immaterial. It doesn’t belong in schools no matter who organized it. Boone High School and @OCPSnews, do better,” he wrote.

Parent Judi Hayes, who has a son at Boone, said before the cancellation that she has no problem with the after-school meeting and said she thinks Farrant is just “trying to whip up outrage yet again.”

Farrant led efforts to get books she thought were too sexually explicit pulled from OCPS school libraries.

“That’s what’s galling to me,” Hayes said. “We have real problems. This is not one of them.”

Teacher shortages, social media bullying, and gun violence, among other issues, deserve attention instead of an after-school meeting to support LGBTQ teenagers, she added.

Earlier this month, DeShazo had to move the location of his charity’s annual Miss Rose Dynasty Pageant when the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts decided it would not allow all-age drag shows given the state’s move against Plaza Live. The pageant was moved to a resort in Kissimmee so that students who were scheduled to perform could take part, he said at the time.