Creep of the Week: Rep. Joe Harding

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Rep. Joe Harding

Joe Harding’s bill has gotten a lot of well-deserved criticism

As I write this, my 12-year-old son is in Florida spending time with his grandparents over a school break. It’s good for him to see his grandparents and soak up a little warmth and sun, which is in short supply in Michigan in February. Is it good for him to be in a state-run by Gov. Ron “COVID is a hoax, and trans kids are the devil” DeSantis? No, no, it is not. I’m very grateful that our Governor is Gretchen. “COVID is a serious public health crisis, and trans kids deserve love and protection” Whitmer, thank you very much.

While my son is playing pickleball with senior citizens, a dangerous and, quite frankly, malicious bill is working its way through the Florida legislature. Dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, it would mandate that school staff and officials who learn that a student identifies as LGBTQ to out that student to their parent(s). If they don’t? Well, the parents can sue them should they find out that, say, their son is gay and that a trusted teacher knew all along.

Reporting is mandatory unless it could lead to neglect and abuse, which is, of course, could—in every single case. This crumb is intended to protect at-risk kids. It’s hardly a comforting provision.

But apparently, Florida State Rep. Joe Harding, the sponsor of the bill, worried that even a little bit of comfort was too much for LGBTQ kids, so he added an amendment that makes the bill even worse. Under his new amendment, schools that choose not to notify parents have six weeks to notify parents that they are choosing not to notify the parents.

In other words, the school has six weeks before they have to tell the parents, “We know something about your kid that you don’t know, and we’re not telling you.”

This will, no doubt, go very smoothly and provide robust protection for kids who are too terrified to tell their parents and families that they are gay or trans or bisexual or whatever Rep. Harding has deemed so terrible it must be shouted from the rooftops for LGBTQ kids’ “protection.”

According to Florida Politics, the amendment reads: “The plan must facilitate disclosure between the student and parent through an open dialogue in a safe, supportive, and judgment-free environment that respects the parent-child relationship and protects the mental, emotional, and physical well-being of the student.”

Ah, yes. The “safe, supportive, and judgment-free” atmosphere of a forced outing. So respectful, so protective. I suspect that these meetings won’t feel safe and supportive, more like emotionally damaging. What could go wrong?

Well, judging from the number of LGBTQ homeless young people out there, a lot.

Unsurprisingly, this bill has gotten a lot of well-deserved criticism.

Florida’s first LGBTQ Latino legislator Rep. Carlos G. Smith, posted to Twitter: “An amendment was just filed by the sponsor of #DontSayGay to make it even more dangerous for vulnerable kids with a STATE-MANDATED outing of LGBTQ students to parents, specifically in cases of abuse, abandonment + neglect. This will have devastating consequences for our youth.”

California Gov. Gavin Newsom tweeted, “This is nothing short of a state-sponsored intimidation of LGBTQ children. It will put kids—who are already navigating stress—in physical and psychological danger. For the sake of these kids, don’t do this, Florida.”

Oh, the number of terrible things that “don’t do this Florida” can be applied to.

The “Don’t Say Gay” moniker is a little confusing for this part of the bill, but the title comes from another facet which would ban discussion of LGBTQ people or issues in classrooms.

Gov. DeSantis supports the bill, by the way, just in case you were thinking that he was at all a good person doing a good job. He is not.

On Feb. 8, President Joe Biden tweeted, “I want every member of the LGBTQI+ community—especially the kids who will be impacted by this hateful bill—to know that you are loved and accepted just as you are. I have your back, and my Administration will continue to fight for the protections and safety you deserve.”

I love to hear this from President Biden, but Gov. DeSantis doesn’t even think Biden is really the sitting president, so I doubt this message will be well received. If anything, it’ll probably make him and Florida’s other Republicans even more determined to hurt LGBTQ kids. Vote them out.