Author of “Don’t Say Gay” law stole $150,000 in COVID funds. He’s going to jail.

Former Florida state Rep. and current felon Joe Harding Photo: YouTube screenshot

Former Florida Republican state lawmaker Joe Harding, author of Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” law, will serve four months in prison and two years of supervised release for fraudulently obtaining $150,000 in COVID funds. He has previously said that opponents of “Don’t Say Gay” want to “sexualize your 6 year olds.”

The 36-year-old criminal resigned from the Florida House of Representatives in December after a federal grand jury indicted him on felony wire fraud, money laundering charges, and making false statements. He pleaded guilty to the charges in March and faced up to 35 years in prison.

Harding defrauded the Small Business Administration during the height of the COVID-19 epidemic by filling out an Economic Injury Disaster Loan application to request money for two dormant businesses. He then transferred some of the funds to his bank account, to a third-party business, and to pay his credit card debt.

“Mr. Harding egregiously betrayed the public trust by stealing from COVID relief funds meant to help the very people who elected him,” said Brian J. Payne, Special Agent of the IRS Office of Criminal Investigation in Tampa, Florida. “Greed and public service should never meet, but when they do, we stand ready to ensure bad actors are held responsible for their actions.”

In a June post, Harding said that he paid back the loan in full, adding, “Now all I can do moving forward is continue to tell the truth, apologize to all of those I have hurt and let down, and then show the world that with God all things are possible.”

Harding authored the “Parental Rights in Education Act,” a law that initially banned any instruction on sexual orientation and gender identities in grades K-3. The law was later expanded to all grade levels, and similar laws have been passed in six other states, according to the Movement Advancement Project.

Harding insisted that his law wasn’t motivated by anti-LGBTQ+ animus. “I believe in the idea that creating boundaries at an early age of what is appropriate in our schools – when we are funding our schools – is not hate,” he said. “It’s actually providing boundaries, and it’s fair to our teachers and our school districts to know what we expect.”

In a March 2022 Twitter post, Harding wrote that opponents of “Don’t Say Gay” “want to take away [parent’s] rights, sexualize your 6 year olds and lie to you.”

Right-wingers have echoed Harding’s claims about LGBTQ+ people, allies, and educators sexualizing children and taking away parents’ rights by “indoctrinating” them. Congressional Republicans have introduced a federal “Don’t Say Gay” bill, though it has little chance of becoming law due to its opposition in the Democrat-led Senate.

Harding has also praised Moms for Liberty, a so-called “parent’s rights” group that has taken over local school boards to ban LGBTQ+ inclusive books and school policies. In June, the Southern Poverty Law Center designated Moms for Liberty as an extremist group.

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