Florida Man Joe Harding Says ‘Don’t Be Gay, Do Crimes’

Joe Harding. Photo by Gage Skidmore.

File under “Bad Things Happening To Bad People.” The author of Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill, Joe Harding, has been charged with “defrauding the government of $150,000 in pandemic aid,” according to the Orlando Weekly.

He was facing up to 35 years in prison, but thanks to a plea deal, he will only serve four months followed by two years of supervised release.

Look, I’m no supporter of this country’s prison industrial complex, but the fact that he was facing 35 YEARS but will only serve four MONTHS is pretty much what you’d expect from a criminal justice system set up to favor well-connected white guys.

I doubt I need to remind anyone what Florida’s Don’t Say Gay bill is all about. Then again, Florida and Gov. Ron DeSantis have been in the news a lot for all kinds of bad reasons. So it’s understandable that some of the ways Republicans have made Florida a bad place to live can get lost in the shuffle.

According to the Orlando Weekly, the Parental Rights in Education Act is “a bill derided by critics as the ‘Don’t Say Gay Bill,’ which banned discussions of sexual orientation and gender identity in public schools from kindergarten through third grade. The law was later expanded to cover fourth through 12th grades.”

Gov. DeSantis was very excited to sign this bill because he’s never met an LGBTQ+ person he didn’t want to hurt.

In a wild turn of events, it should be noted that Harding resigned from office in December after being criminally charged rather than screaming that this whole thing was a “WITCH HUNT by the Democrat Party!”

“According to court records, Harding defrauded the federal government through loan applications with the federal government’s Economic Injury Disaster Loan program for two companies he owned that were inactive,” reports the Orlando Weekly. 

Isn’t it something that Republicans who denied that COVID was a threat or even real at all were more than happy to pretend to believe in it if it could be financially profitable for them? All those dead people, though? No big deal.

“Prosecutors said Harding used part of the money to pay his credit card balance. Some funds were shifted to the bank account of an oil company owned by his brother-in-law, Patrick Walsh,” the article continues.

Cool, cool. So the guy who declared that even hearing about the existence of LGBTQ+ people is so scandalous for grade schoolers that the government must step in to prevent it thought it’d be cool to steal from the government to pay his AmEx bill.

But, hey, at least he shared some of the money with his brother-in-law. I’m sure he’s an upstanding guy.

Or not.

“In January, Walsh was sentenced to five and a half years in prison for defrauding the federal government of $7.8 million in COVID-19 loans, some of which was used to purchase an island in the Gulf of Mexico,” says the Orlando Weekly.

I mean, who among us hasn’t used taxpayer dollars to buy ourselves an island? And anyway, perhaps this is an island free of LGBTQ+ propaganda where no one says gay and anyone who uses pronouns is banished and sent out to sea in a leaky rowboat.

I wonder if Harding is mad that he only bilked the government out of $150,000 while his brother-in-law was out there getting island money. Then again, Walsh got a lot more prison time. They can all look back and laugh about it at Thanksgiving 2028.

At Harding’s sentencing hearing, his brother Daniel, a pastor, “told the judge that his brother was a committed family man and pious Christian who taught kids softball instead of advancing his business interests,” according to the Gainesville Sun.

I imagine it went something ie this: “Please, your honor, my brother Joe was so busy playing softball with his kids and teaching them that gay people are an abomination that he did not become a rich businessman, so he asked ‘what would Jesus do’ and thus knew he must rob the country. Amen.”

D'Anne Witkowski is a poet, writer and comedian living life with her wife and son. She has been writing about LGBT politics for over a decade. Follow her on Twitter.