Former Florida Rep. Joe Harding, the legislator responsible for the controversial “Don’t Say Gay” law, has been sentenced to four months in federal prison. U.S. District Judge Allen Winsor handed down the sentence after Harding pleaded guilty to charges of wire fraud, money laundering, and making false statements to investigators.
Harding resigned from the Florida legislature following his indictment for defrauding federal loan programs meant to aid businesses affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Prosecutors revealed that he obtained $150,000 in loans from the Small Business Administration for companies that were no longer operational. Some of this money was used to pay off credit card debt or transferred into personal accounts. U.S. Attorney Jason Coody emphasized the gravity of the deception, stating that diverting emergency financial assistance during the pandemic was “beyond the pale.”
The former legislator had drawn national attention for authoring the “Don’t Say Gay” law in Florida, which initially prohibited public school teachers from discussing gender identity or sexual orientation in kindergarten through third grade. Since Harding’s departure from the legislature, the ban has been extended through high school, with the statutory prohibition now encompassing eighth grade as well.
Investigators underscored the importance of Harding’s sentence as a deterrent to those contemplating defrauding government programs designed to aid individuals in dire circumstances. Special Agent in Charge Brian J. Payne of IRS Criminal Investigation stated, “Greed and public service should never meet, but when they do, we stand ready to ensure bad actors are held responsible for their actions.”
This sentencing highlights the significant repercussions faced by a legislator whose actions not only betrayed public trust but also negatively impacted the LGBTQ+ community in Florida and others who sought assistance during the pandemic.