‘Loved, Accepted and Wanted’: Lakeland LGBTQ+ center focuses on health, wellness and community

‘Loved, Accepted and Wanted’: Lakeland LGBTQ+ center focuses on health, wellness and community

LAKELAND, Fla. (WFLA) – As Jason DeShazo walks around the Rose Dynasty Center, it is clear it is more than a building to him.

It is the realization of a dream.

‘We’re not going anywhere’: Florida Pride Month events proceed despite risk of violence

“I don’t think there’s a day that’s gone by that I haven’t walked through the hallway and like literally freaked out and have this emotional thing of this is something I’ve dreamt about my whole life,” he said.

DeShazo has strived to find a safe space his whole life.

Since 2000, he has performed in drag as ‘Momma Ashley Rose,’ and in recent years has become one of Polk County’s most vocal advocates for LGBTQ+ causes.

Courtesy: Jason DeShazo
Courtesy: Jason DeShazo

“I believe in letting everyone know they are loved, accepted and wanted no matter who they are,” he said.

“Loved, Accepted and Wanted” is the motto for the Rose Dynasty Center, the first physical location tied to DeShazo’s non-profit organization, the Rose Dynasty Foundation.

“Not only is it our first official building after being an organization for seven years but it’s Lakeland’s first LGBTQ+ center,” said DeShazo.

He said a lot of people in the LGBTQ+ community who live in Polk County travel to Orlando or Tampa for medical care and therapy. At the Rose Dynasty Center, there will be LGBTQ+-focused therapists and one day a week, a primary care provider.

Medical services are being made available through a partnership with Orlando-based Pineapple Healthcare. The highest co-pay for the primary care visit will be $40 and patients will be seen whether or not they have insurance.

There will also be free HIV and STD testing Tuesday – Friday and community spaces for performances, events, classes and meetings.

“We have a 55+ queer support group starting, a recovery group, a trans group and the list goes on,” said DeShazo.

Books that have been removed from library shelves in recent years are stacked in the center’s library section.

“LGBTQ+ history books, books on being trans or non-binary, such as the book I Am Jazz,” said DeShazo.

In December 2022, neo-Nazi protestors disrupted a Rose Dynasty Foundation event in Lakeland. Last year, DeShazo said the organization spent $10,000 on security at events.

“We need to do that. We need to protect us and protect our people but that’s $10,000 that we could have given to other charities, that we gave years before,” he said.

The safety plan at the new center includes security, both marked and undercover. DeShazo said he has been in contact with Lakeland police about the new center and off-duty officers are part of his security plan.

“We have a good relationship with the Rose Dynasty Center and have worked with them in the past,” said a Lakeland police spokesperson. “At this time, we have no anticipated concerns.”

DeShazo said he is determined to stay the course and continue to serve Polk County.

“We’re not going anywhere and it’s not just me. The community of Polk County and beyond has proven themselves beautifully over the last two years since the Nazis showed up to show that, number one, they know that we need this, and number two, they support what we do,” he said.

The grand opening is set for 2 p.m. – 5 p.m. on Sunday at 1253 Memorial Blvd.

Copyright 2024 Nexstar Media, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

For the latest news, weather, sports, and streaming video, head to WFLA.