Florida lawmaker behind 'Don't Say Gay' law resigns following fraud charges

Dec. 9 (UPI) -- The Florida state Republican lawmaker behind the so-called Don't Say Gay legislation resigned a day after a grand jury indicted him for scheming to defraud the federal government of tens of thousands of COVID-19-relief dollars.

State Rep. Joseph Harding of House District 24 resigned, effective immediately, Thursday in a letter posted to Facebook, explaining Florida's leadership should not be encumbered by distractions that are solely his own.


"During my time in the legislature, I have been able to fight for Florida's families, and I have been able to represent the people that make my district great," he said. "If my time in the legislature was meant, by Providence, to only be two years, I can say with confidence that I left it all on the field for those two years."

In a letter addressed to Florida House Speaker Paul Renner, Harding thanked his Republican colleague for his leadership while remarking that it has been "a great honor" to serve the people of Florida.


"However, due to legal issues that require my complete focus, it is my opinion that now is the time to allow someone else to serve my district," he said.

His resignation came on the heels of a federal grand jury charging the 35-year-old Williston, Fla., resident Wednesday in a six-count indictment on allegations that he attempted to defraud the Small Business Administration of more than $150,000.

Federal prosecutors said Harding submitted false documents to the SBA's COVID-19 Economic Injury Disaster Loan program to receive funds for dormant business entities. The Economic Injury Disaster Loan Program meant to support small businesses recover from the pandemic's economic impacts.

He is accused of obtaining fake bank statements for at least one of his inactive businesses to use as supporting documentation in his loan application.

The grand jury charged him with two counts of engaging in monetary transactions with funds derived from unlawful activity, two counts of making false statements to the SBA and two counts of money laundering. If convicted, he could face decades behind bars.

In his letter to his constituents Thursday, Harding said there will be a time for him to explain his side of the story but that he cannot comment further on the case.


"For now, let me reassure my constituents and the taxpayers that I repaid every penny of the loan I obtained, and I have done my best to cooperate fully with all authorities," he said.

Harding gained national attention in January after he unveiled House Bill 1557, titled The Parental Rights In Education Act, which, among other reforms, bars "instruction" of sexual orientation or gender identity in kindergarten through Grade 3.

The measure became known as the Don't' Say Gay Bill as it attracted widespread concern from LGBTQ advocates who viewed it as a way to silence discussion about LGBTQ issues and a way to further stigmatize and isolate marginalized students at school.

Florida's Republican governor, Ron DeSantis, signed the law into being on March 28.

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