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‘Don’t Say Gay’ Author Resigns From Florida House After Indictment

Joe Harding

Rep. Joe Harding has been indicted on charges of wire fraud, money laundering, and making false statements.  

Florida Rep. Joe Harding, the author of the state's controversial "don't say gay" law, resigned his seat in the Florida legislature Thursday.

The move came shortly after he was indicted by federal prosecutors on charges of wire fraud, money laundering, and making false statements.

"It has been a great honor to serve the people of this state and more specifically the people of Levy and Marion Counties. 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," Harding wrote in a resignation letter.

"Today, effective immediately, I am resigning from my position as the State Representative of House District 24."

Prosecutors say Harding committed two acts of wire fraud in an effort to defraud the Small Business Administration when he obtained small business loans related to the coronavirus pandemic under false pretenses. Federal officials say he wrongly obtained or attempted to receive more than $150,000.

The federal government says Harding lied in SBA Economic Injury Disaster Loan applications and made false representations in documents using the names of dormant businesses. An indictment asserts Harding went so far as to create fake bank statements for one dormant business to use as a supporting document in an EIDL application.

The Ocala-area legislator garnered national notoriety after he sponsored the so-called Parental Rights in Education bill, eventually passed by the legislature and signed into law by Gov. Ron DeSantis. The law bans classroom instruction on sexual orientation completely in kindergarten through third grade and bars educators from teaching about the subjects "in a manner that is not age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students in accordance with state standards" in higher grades.

Florida House Speaker Paul Renner, a Republican, accepted Harding's resignation, a day after stripping him of all committee assignments immediately after the indictment was announced.

"After further consultation with Representative Harding, I understand and respect his decision to submit his resignation. Any questions about his case should be directed to his legal counsel," Renner said in a statement.

Harding released a lengthier statement through his attorney regarding the federal charges.

"To my many colleagues that have reached out to me, including many I have deep policy disagreements with, thank you. It has been the honor of a lifetime to serve alongside you for the past two years," Harding said.

"There will be a time when I can tell my story in detail, and I will. 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."

Equality Florida, the state's largest LGBTQ+ advocacy group, left the substance of charges to courts to settle.

"The courts will sort through this sordid mess and serious corruption allegations," reads a tweet from the group. "But we know this: he's (Harding) made many false statements about LGBTQ people. Florida parents are forced to navigate schools that are less safe for their kids because Harding's political ambitions know no bounds."

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