‘Don’t Say Gay’ Sponsor Locked Up On Fraud Charges

Florida State Representative Joe Harding at the 2022 Hazlitt Summit hosted by Young Americans for Liberty in Orlando, Florida. Credit: Gage Skidmore, Wikimedia Commons.

Former state Rep. Joe Harding, sponsor of a law that made Florida ground zero in the culture wars, is on his way to the Big House.

On Oct. 19, Harding was sentenced to four months in federal prison, with two years of probation to follow. In March, the Ocala Republican pleaded guilty to wire fraud, money laundering and lying to investigators. He resigned his house seat in the wake of the indictment.

“The theft of any amount of taxpayer funds is inexcusable,” said Jason Coody, U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Florida. “However, the defendant’s deceptive acts of diverting emergency financial assistance from small businesses during the pandemic is simply beyond the pale.” 

Harding could have been given much as 20 years behind bars had he not cooperated with the prosecution.

Prosecutors said Harding participated in a scheme to defraud the Small Business Administration of more than $150,000 in coronavirus relief loans. He must surrender to authorities by Jan. 24, 2024. 

“Today’s sentence both punishes the defendant’s criminal conduct and should serve as a significant deterrent to others who would selfishly steal from their fellow citizens to unlawfully enrich themselves,” Coody said. 

Harding made a name for himself in the Florida legislature by pushing the Parental Rights in Education bill, dubbed “Don’t Say Gay,” which ignited a fierce debate over issues of sexuality and gender identity in public schools.


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