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Miami Herald: The hunt for Alejandro Suarez

What happened next was worthy of a Netflix movie or a reality TV show with elements of homophobia and transphobia tossed into the narrative



Alejandro Suarez (Screenshot/YouTube CBS Miami)

MIAMI – In a compelling in-depth investigation, Miami Herald reporters Carol M. Miller and Omar Ortiz track the story of 20-year-old Alejandro Suarez who decided to escape a domineering family and moved to Chicago. What happened next was worthy of a Netflix movie or a reality TV show with elements of homophobia and transphobia tossed into the narrative.

On July 4, Independence Day, Suarez packed his laptop, camera and some clothes into a book bag. He placed a handwritten note in the glove box of his blue Honda Civic and left the car in the parking lot of a Kendall church. He then hopped a Greyhound bus to Chicago to begin a new life. “I refuse to be helpless,” he wrote. “Be assured I am safe.”

Odalys Heredia, the 20-year-old’s mother, wanted him back. She filed a report with Miami-Dade police saying Suarez was missing and endangered. She told news reporters Suarez functions at the level of a small child due to a diagnosis of autism in his childhood. And that he was friendless, and largely helpless. To authorities, she and her sister, Suarez’s aunt, indicated he may have been abducted by a dangerous band of transgender individuals seeking to harvest and sell his body organs.

The result was a missing persons drama on steroids — TV spots, police bulletins and online articles, a GoFundMe account that raised thousands, the involvement of a probate judge and a lawyer-turned-university professor who specializes in the rights of people with disabilities — a reflection of how a compelling narrative can be amplified by media, social and otherwise. It was the kind of attention that missing persons reports don’t always get.

All of it swirled around a 20-year-old college student who agreed with none of the characterizations of him and said he just wanted to quietly, unobtrusively follow his own path.

A clash of wills between mother and son is the kind of drama that happens in many homes — except theirs blew up into something much bigger.

Read the entire story (Linked)



Students rally at Florida Capitol; Don’t Say Gay expansion passes

Passage of HB 1069 comes as last year’s Don’t Say LGBTQ law wreaks havoc on Florida’s schools & drives educators & families from the state



Students from across the state descended on the Capitol to protest fast-tracking of DeSantis’ agenda of book banning and classroom censorship (Photo Credit: Equality Florida)

TALLAHASSEE, FL — On International Transgender Day of Visibility, hundreds of students from across the state descended on the Capitol to protest the legislature’s fast-tracking of Governor DeSantis’ agenda of book banning and classroom censorship and assaults on academic and medical freedom.

Buses arrived from South and Central Florida in a collaboration between high school, college and university students called the Student Unity Coalition.

Organizers marched the coalition from Florida State University campus into the halls of the Capitol building just as the House of Representatives voted 77-35 in favor of HB 1069, which would expand the Don’t Say LGBTQ law’s censorship provisions through 8th grade, ban parents from requiring the school system use their child’s correct pronouns, and escalating book bans, allowing one person from anywhere in the nation to challenge a book in a Florida school, prompting its immediate removal pending a lengthy review.

“The students who mobilized in the hundreds today sent a clear message about the Florida they want to grow up in,” said Joe Saunders, Equality Florida Senior Political Director. “They want a Florida that values freedom — real freedom. Free states don’t ban books. Free states don’t censor LGBTQ people from society or strip parents of their right to ensure their child is respected in school. Students and families across Florida are fed up with this governor’s agenda that has put a target on the backs of LGBTQ people. Shame on DeSantis’ legislative cronies for peddling more anti-LGBTQ lies on the House floor today and ramming through an expansion of the censorship policies that have emptied bookshelves across the state and wreaked havoc on our schools. Shame on them for ignoring the voices outside demanding a state that respects all families and protects all students.”

House passage of HB 1069 comes as last year’s Don’t Say LGBTQ law wreaks havoc on Florida’s schools and drives educators and families from the state. DeSantis’ Florida has become synonymous with the sweeping book bans that are targeting books with LBGTQ characters or Black history themes, including The Life of Rosa Parks and And Tango Makes Three. Students’ graduation speeches have been censored.

Rainbow Safe Space stickers have been peeled from classroom windows. Districts have canceled long standing after school events and refused to recognize LGBTQ History Month.

The rampant right wing censorship has exacerbated Florida’s exodus of educators, with vacant teacher positions ballooning to over 8,000, and, according to a recent survey from the Williams Institute, has led a majority of LGBTQ parents in the state to consider leaving Florida altogether.

On Thursday, parents and educators held a joint press conference outside the House chamber to decry this legislation and other proposals that would strip them, their students, and their families of the rights to academic and medical freedom.

That same day, Republicans lawmakers rejected numerous reasonable amendments to HB 1069, including a Parental Rights amendment by Representative Rita Harris that would have allowed parents to write a letter instructing schools on what pronouns their child should be addressed with, a clarifying amendment from Representative Gantt that would have finally defined the term “classroom instruction,” which bill sponsor Representative Stan McClain acknowledged has been left undefined and vague, and a Marriage Equality amendment by Representative Michele Rayner-Goolsby that would have struck outdated and bigoted sex education language that mandates instruction on the benefits of “monogamous, heterosexual marriage.”

The over 150 high school and college students who rallied in Tallahassee filled the Capitol rotunda just before 1pm (EST), with their chants of “this is what democracy looks like” temporarily interrupting a disinformation-filled rant by GOP Representative, and sponsor of the bill to criminalize medical care for transgender youth, Ralph Massullo.

The Don’t Say LGBTQ Expansion bill’s Senate version, SB 1320, will move next to its final committee, Fiscal Policy.

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DeSantis escalates war on LGBTQ+ Floridians- expands law

Reacting to a question during the daily briefing, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre decried the move by the Florida Governor



Governor Ron DeSantis in the legislative chambers on March 7, 2023 (Photo Credit: Office of the Governor)

TALLAHASSE – Republican Governor Ron DeSantis is aiming to expand the state’s controversial ‘Don’t Say Gay’ law to now include all public education from pre-K through to grade 12.

First reported by the Orlando Sentinel, the Florida State Board of Education, headed by Commissioner of Education Manny Diaz Jr., a DeSantis appointee with a long anti-LGBTQ+ track record, has put forth a proposal expanding the “Parental Rights in Education,” aka Don’t Say Gay’ law to include essentially all levels of education that would ban classroom instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity.

When first signed by the governor last Spring, the initial law affected kindergarten through the third grade. This proposal would add from grades 4 to 12, unless required by existing state standards or as part of reproductive health instruction that students can choose not to take or parents have opted their children out of.

Reacting to a question from a journalist during the daily press briefing, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre decried the move by the Florida Governor.

She was asked: “Do you have any reaction on Florida Governor DeSantis expanding the rules that forbid classroom instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity?”

The Press Secretary:   “Yeah.  It’s wrong.  It’s completely, utterly wrong.  And — and we’ve been very cry- — crystal clear about that, when it comes to the “Don’t Say Gay” bill and other — other actions that this governor has taken in the state of Florida.

But make no mistake: This is a part of a disturbing and dangerous trend that we’re seeing across the country of legislations that are anti-LGBTQI+, anti-trans, anti the community in a way that we have not seen it in some time. And so — and it’s not just the LGBTQI+ community.  We’re talking about students.  We’re talking about educators.  We’re talking about, just, individuals.

The President has been very clear, this administration has been very clear: We will continue to fight for the dignity of — of Americans, for the dignity and respect of the community, of opportunity that should be given to students and families in Florida and across the country.

So, again, this is just plain wrong, and we’re going to continue to speak against — speak out against it.”

Brandon Wolf, Press Secretary for Equality Florida, the largest state-wide LGBTQ+ equality rights and advocacy organization, released the following statement:

After a year’s worth of gaslighting and assurances that the Don’t Say LGBTQ law was narrowly focused, the DeSantis Administration is now saying the quiet part out loud: they believe that it is never appropriate to acknowledge the existence of LGBTQ people, or our contributions to society, in schools. This time, the governor is placing the crosshairs squarely on individual educators, threatening their professional licenses for making mention of the LGBTQ community in any grade level.

The Board of Education’s proposed rule would see more books with LGBTQ characters ripped from school shelves, more discussion of diverse families muzzled, and further character assassination of hardworking teachers in Florida. Free states don’t ban books. Free states don’t censor communities out of classrooms. Free states don’t copy/paste their political agendas from the likes of Vladimir Putin.

This proposed rule is yet more government power being perverted to serve Ron DeSantis’ desperation to run for President. And its consequences will weigh most heavily on those who have already been forced to bear the brunt of his insatiable lust for power.

Equality Florida also noted that while the DeSantis Administration has rejected requests to clarify the law’s vague, unconstitutional language, its proposal would add legal liability for individual educators, threatening their professional licenses for violations. The proposed rule is scheduled for a vote by the State Board of Education at their meeting on April 19 in Tallahassee.

DeSantis is considering a run for the presidency and has made culture war issues the forefront of his administration’s policies.

Former openly gay Florida Democratic State Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith tweeted: “It was never, ever, ever, ever about kindergarten thru 3rd grade. It was always about demonizing us and censoring LGBTQ people out of existence in our schools.”

Additional reporting by Brody Levesque

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Know what’s a real drag? Florida’s attack on LGBTQ community

The editorial board of the Miami Herald wrote a scathing critique of the policies of Florida Republican Governor Ron DeSantis



Anita Bryant and Ron DeSantis (Los Angeles Blade graphic)

MIAMI – The editorial board of the Miami Herald on Thursday wrote a scathing critique of the policies of Florida Republican Governor Ron DeSantis. The board comparing the governor’s anti-LGBTQ+ and so-called anti-WOKE campaign and legislative agenda to the 1977 anti-gay movement founded by singer Anita Bryant.

They carried signs saying “Protect our children” and “Don’t legislate immorality.” Their leader said she spoke as a mother and a Christian, her “Save our children” campaign proclaiming to save Florida’s youth from the influence of gay people,” the board wrote.

It was 1977, and singer Anita Bryant, known for her Florida orange juice commercials, became the face of an effort to repeal a Dade County ordinance that prohibited discrimination against gay men and lesbians.

Like Bryant in 1977, they say they are acting in the name of Protection of Children” — to name a bill targeting drag shows. It’s under that premise that the DeSantis administration has threatened essentially to shut down drag-show venues that allow minors. The state is going after their liquor licenses.

In the free state of Florida, parental rights reign unless a parent’s choice doesn’t align with state bureaucrats. Whose job is it anyway to parent children? If Florida’s real issue is with exposing minors to sexually explicit content, then they should also vet every artist who performs at big concert venues.”

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Miami Hyatt liquor license may be revoked over a drag show

This is the third time the state’s Division of Alcoholic Beverages and Tobacco has targeted a business that hosted a drag show



Hyatt Regency Miami (Photo Credit: Hyatt Hotels Corporation )

MIAMI – The DeSantis administration is in the process of revoking the Hyatt Regency Miami’s alcohol license after the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation determined that the hotel’s affiliated James L. Knight Center had hosted “A Drag Queen Christmas” performed Dec. 27 with minors present in the audience.

The Knight Center is a major South Florida venue and has previously hosted the Miss Universe and Miss USA pageants. The venue’s main room can seat 4,600 people.

This is the third time the state’s Division of Alcoholic Beverages and Tobacco, which operates under the Department of Business and Professional Regulation, has targeted a business that hosted a drag show.

A popular restaurant and pub in Miami’s Wynwood neighborhood is also under threat of losing its liquor license. The R House identifies itself on its Facebook page as “the proud home of South Florida’s most popular weekend drag brunches.”

The July 2022 complaint filed by the Department of Business and Professional Regulation asks for a final order that the R House restaurant is a declared a public nuisance and has its liquor license revoked. 

According to the South Florida Sun Sentinel, the complaint was issued after a video of a recent performance at the bar’s drag brunch went viral. A topless drag queen wearing lingerie stuffed with money can be seen in the video attempting to dance with a young girl, who the DPBR estimates is “between three and five years old.” Twitter account “Libs of Tik Tok” originally found the footage on Tik Tok, posted by a user who wrote, “Children belong at drag shows!!!! Children deserve to see fun & expression & freedom.”

In late December “A Drag Queen Christmas” was hosted by the Orlando non-profit Orlando Philharmonic Plaza Foundation on Dec. 28, filing a complaint alleging that children under age 18 were allowed to attend.

The complaint against the Orlando Philharmonic alleged the foundation violated Florida law in allowing for a person to “commit lewd or lascivious exhibition” in the presence of an individual who is less than 16 years old.

In this latest targeting of the show, which is a holiday-themed drag show that tours in 36 different cities and features stars from the reality show “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” Insider webzine journalist Kimberly Leonard reported that the DeSantis administration officials accused the Knight Center of several violations, including a prohibition of “lascivious exhibition” before people younger than 16, mirroring the December complaint against the Orlando Philharmonic.

The department’s complaint said performers engaged in “acts of simulated sexual activity, and lewd, vulgar, and indecent displays” that included:

  • Performers forcibly penetrating or rubbing exposed prosthetic female breasts against faces of audience members
  • Intentionally exposing performers’ prosthetic female breasts and genitalia to the audience
  • Intentionally exposing performers’ buttocks to the audience
  • Simulating masturbation through performers’ digitally penetrating prosthetic female genital
  • Graphic depictions of childbirth and/or abortion

Hyatt Regency Miami is allowed to keep selling alcohol until the department makes a final decision. The business has 21 days to request a hearing, Beth Pannell, spokeswoman for the department, told Insider.

Regulators had warned the facility to change how it marketed the show before it went live, according to a copy of the letter included in the complaint. The letter accused the marketers of putting on a performance that constitutes “public nuisances, lewd activity, and disorderly conduct” when minors are present.

News of this latest action was first reported by far-right conservative internet based outlet Florida’s Voice.

As more and more Republican states target drag shows, in just the past few weeks, Tennessee became the first to ban adult performances, including drag, from public spaces such as parks and schools. 

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Florida introduces bill that would remove trans kids from parents

If those parents provide or are “at risk” of providing trans-health care. Parents would be charged with felonies + thrown in prison



Florida state Senator Clay Yarborough, sponsor Senate Bill 254 (Screenshot/YouTube Jacksonville Jaycees)

TALLAHASSEE – On Friday Florida state Senator Clay Yarborough introduced a measure mandating state intervention in cases of transgender minors receiving gender affirming care.

Senate Bill 254 includes provisions for courts exercising temporary emergency jurisdiction over a child who “is at risk of or is being subjected to” gender affirming care; includes granting of warrants for physical custody over children “likely to imminently” receive gender affirming care; and imposing felony penalties on parents or healthcare providers providing gender affirming care to minors.

The bill also includes a provision targeting trans minors from Florida families where the child in question may reside outside of Florida.

In a statement released by her office, state Senate President Kathleen Passidomo said:

 “Parents have the right to raise their children as they see fit, and government intervention should be a last resort,” she added, “Unfortunately, all too often we are hearing about treatments for gender dysphoria being administered to children, often very young children. That’s just wrong, and we need to step in and make sure it isn’t happening in our state.”

Equality Florida Director of Transgender Equality Nikole Parker provided the following statement in response:

This legislation is a gross assault on parental rights. Republican leadership wants to seize control over children if their parents might seek supportive health care that doesn’t align with the DeSantis agenda. Parents have the right to make healthcare decisions for their children. This includes health care widely and safely used with children for decades. This bill is about extremist politics, not well-being. Parents could lose custody of their children and face felony prosecution for seeking life-saving care and healthcare providers would be criminalized for practicing widely-accepted medicine. Senator Yarborough should be ashamed, and every parent should be alarmed by this dangerous, authoritarian precedent.

Openly gay former State Representative Carlos Guillermo Smith (D-Orlando) tweeted, “I can’t believe I’m writing this. A new FL bill will tell courts to SEIZE TRANS CHILDREN AWAY from their supportive parents if those parents provide or are “at risk” of providing them life-saving care. Parents would be charged with felonies + thrown in prison. This is fascist.”

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16 Attorneys General say DeSantis violating trans students rights

“Such actions jeopardize the health, safety and well-being of young people and their families, & contravene well-accepted medical standards”



New York Attorney General Letitia James (Screenshot/YouTube PBS NewsHour)

NEW YORK – In a letter sent Friday to Republican Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, a coalition attorneys general of fifteen states and the District of Columbia notified the governor that it was their belief that he and his administration was violating the privacy and rights of university age transgender students.

The letter’s lead signatory, New York Attorney General Letitia James, writing on behalf of the 16 partner coalition stated:

“The undersigned Attorneys General write with grave concern over your request for information regarding the provision of gender-affirming care to Florida university students experiencing gender dysphoria. This information request may be intended to intimidate, and will actually intimidate, university administrators and health care providers and chill vulnerable students, including the students or staff in Florida’s state university system who are citizens of our States, from accessing necessary medical care.”

James goes on to caution DeSantis his actions are violating federal protections against discrimination in accessing health care. The letter also notes that, “Governor DeSantis’ request for students’ private gender- affirming care information is discriminatory. Collecting this information appears to be paving the way for the Governor [DeSantis] to unconstitutionally target and limit the programs that these individuals rely on for healthcare and well-being.”

DeSantis’ budget director, Chris Spencer at the governor’s behest sent a survey out in mid-January to all 28 state colleges and universities asking administrators for the numbers and ages of their students who sought or received gender dysphoria treatment, including sex reassignment surgery and hormone prescriptions.

“Our office has learned that several state universities provide services to persons suffering from gender dysphoria,” Spencer wrote in the cover letter accompanying the survey. “On behalf of the Governor, I hereby request that you respond to the enclosed inquiries related to such services.”

That action by Spencer brought a rapid critique from Florida House Democratic leader Fentrice Driskell who said: “We can see cuts in funding for universities to treat students with this condition, and I think an all-out elimination of services is certainly on the table.”

The Attorneys General pointed out in their letter referencing that survey: “Public reports suggest that you may seek to use the information sought to eliminate funding for necessary gender-affirming health care for students. This would be in keeping with your prior actions targeting the LGBTQIA community, and particularly transgender youth, such as cutting off funding under Medicaid for gender affirming care and calling upon the Florida Board of Medicine to prohibit use of puberty blockers and other gender-affirming care for people under 18.”

The Associated Press noted the survey requires breakdowns by age, regardless of whether students are age 18 or older, of people prescribed hormones or hormone antagonists or who underwent medical procedures like mastectomies, breast augmentation or removal and reconstruction of genitals.

In addition to the elimination of funding for trans related healthcare through campus student health services, LGBTQ+ advocacy groups charge that these actions by the governor’s administration will only serve to further isolate an already marginalized trans community.

In the letter, the Attorneys General further outlined their concerns especially in regard to the mental health and well being of trans students:

“Transgender young people are among the most vulnerable populations in the country. They are more likely than cisgender students to experience bullying, violence, sexual assault, and other forms of discrimination at school. Transgender individuals of all ages already face steep barriers to obtaining basic health care, including lack of insurance, denial of coverage, and discrimination and denials of care by providers.

For example, The Trevor Project’s 2022 National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health found that 60% of LGBTQ youth who wanted mental health care in the past year were unable to get it. Transgender youth also experience disproportionately high rates of houselessness, substance abuse, depression, anxiety, suicidality, and other mental health issues.”

The letter notes: “Such actions jeopardize the health, safety and well-being of young people and their families, contravene well-accepted medical standards, unduly insert the state into the provider-patient relationship, violate students’ rights under federal law—including privacy—and offend basic human rights. Accordingly, we urge you to reconsider this action and rescind the information request immediately.”

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DeSantis targets Orlando non-profit over holiday drag show



The Plaza Live venue, Orlando, Florida (Photo Credit: Orlando Philharmonic Plaza Foundation)

ORLANDO – Florida’s Republican Governor Ron DeSantis escalated his war on the state’s LGBTQ+ community ordering a state agency to launch a complaint against a Orlando non-profit over a drag holiday event it hosted in which children under age 18 were allowed to attend.

The state’s Division of Alcoholic Beverages and Tobacco under the Department of Business and Professional Regulation filed the complaint on Friday against the Orlando Philharmonic Plaza Foundation alleging the foundation violated Florida law in allowing for a person to “commit lewd or lascivious exhibition” in the presence of an individual who is less than 16 years old. 

“A Drag Queen Christmas” was hosted by the foundation on Dec. 28 and during the performance sold alcoholic drinks at its Plaza Live venue. In the complaint, the agency states that the foundation used “Christmas-themed promotional materials” that did not give advance notice of the “sexually explicit nature” of the show’s contents. 

The complaint also states that the division sent the foundation a letter ahead of the show saying “sexually explicit drag show performances constitute public nuisances, lewd activity, and disorderly conduct when minors are in attendance” and the foundation’s license could be subject to penalties if it did not ensure minors could not attend the event. 

In its capacity as a regulator of alcohol, the division attempting to revoke the foundation’s liquor license for six alleged counts of violating Florida statutes. 

When asked about the move by the DeSantis administration targeting the non-profit, Bryan D. Griffin, the spokesman for DeSantis said “Governor DeSantis stands to protect the innocence of children, and the governor always follows through when he says he will do something.”

Orlando Weekly writer Matthew Moyer noted that The Plaza Live — besides serving as the performing home base of the Orlando Philharmonic — hosts a robust slate of touring bands, comedians, YouTubers and, yes, drag performers.

State Rep. Anna Eskamani released a statement to Orlando Weekly late Friday afternoon, condemning the state’s actions in no uncertain terms. “Governor Ron DeSantis’ culture wars are destroying people’s jobs and livelihoods. The very notion of shutting down a small business over a drag show is insane and extreme,” said Eskamani. “In the United States we do not allow the government to determine what we can read, see or hear or who we can gather with. Targeting drag performances limits everyone’s freedom of speech and is all a part of the Governor’s sick anti-LGBTQ+ agenda.”

DeSantis previously filed a complaint against a popular restaurant and pub in the Miami’s Wynwood neighborhood in July, alleging that it violated a public decency law in allowing children to attend a drag show.

The R house, is a unique casual fine dining establishment and lounge with an integrated gallery right in the heart of the vibrant Miami-Wynwood arts district named for Rocco Carulli, the executive chef as well as creator of the restaurant. The R House identifies itself on its Facebook page as “the proud home of South Florida’s most popular weekend drag brunches! Make some time to check us out and experience R House.”

The complaint was filed by the Department of Business and Professional Regulation on asking that the R House restaurant is a declared a public nuisance and has its liquor license revoked. 

According to the South Florida Sun Sentinel, the complaint was issued after a video of a recent performance at the bar’s drag brunch went viral. A topless drag queen wearing lingerie stuffed with money can be seen in the video attempting to dance with a young girl, who the DPBR estimates is “between three and five years old.” Twitter account “Libs of Tik Tok” originally found the footage on Tik Tok, posted by a user who wrote, “Children belong at drag shows!!!! Children deserve to see fun & expression & freedom.”

The department cited multiple incidents of inappropriate drag performances with kids in the audience, including one in which a child “between the ages of ten and twelve” was “seen recoiling and turning away in her seat as a Brunch performer climbed on the back of the child’s bench, squatted, and gyrated a couple of feet above the child’s head.”

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Lawmaker who wrote Don’t Say Gay law indicted for wire fraud

The Republican state representative for Florida’s House District 24, Harding authored Florida’s infamous “Don’t Say Gay law”



Screenshot/YouTube Harding campaign video/Facebook

GAINESVILLE – A federal grand jury has returned a six-count indictment against Joseph Harding, 35, of Williston, Florida. The indictment was announced by Jason R. Coody, United States Attorney for the Northern District of Florida.

The Republican state representative for Florida’s House District 24, Harding authored Florida’s infamous “Don’t Say Gay law,” titled the “Parental Rights in Education,” passed in March of this year by the Republican-controlled Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Ron DeSantis.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Florida stated:

The Indictment alleges that between December 1, 2020, and March 1, 2021, Harding committed two acts of wire fraud by participating in a scheme to defraud the Small Business Administration (SBA) and for obtaining coronavirus-related small business loans by means of materially false and fraudulent pretenses, representations, and promises, and for the purpose of executing such scheme, caused wire communications to be transmitted in interstate commerce.

The Indictment alleges that Harding made and caused to be made false and fraudulent SBA Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) applications, and made false representations in supporting loan documentation, in the names of dormant business entities, submitted to the SBA. 

The Indictment further alleges that Harding obtained fraudulently created bank statements for one of the dormant business entities which were used as supporting documentation for one of his fraudulent EIDL loan applications. By this conduct, the indictment alleges that Harding fraudulently obtained and attempted to obtain more than $150,000 in funds from the SBA to which he was not entitled. 

Harding is also charged with two counts of engaging in monetary transactions with funds derived from unlawful activity related to his transfer of the fraudulently obtained EIDL proceeds into two bank accounts, and two counts of making false statements to the SBA.

The investigation was jointly conducted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Internal Revenue Service-Criminal Investigation, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) Office of Inspector General, and the Small Business Administration (SBA) Office of Inspector General. 

Trial for Harding is scheduled for Wednesday, January 11, 2023, at 8:30 a.m., at the United States Courthouse in Gainesville, Florida, before the Honorable United States District Judge Allen Winsor.

The maximum terms of imprisonment for the offenses are as follows:

  • 20 years: Wire Fraud
  • 10 years: Money Laundering
  • 5 years:  Making False Statements

Florida Politics reported that according to POLITICO‘s Gary Fineout, Harding has already been released on bond, and the government did not look to detain Harding.

Harding has already lost his committee assignments for the upcoming legislative term.

“After consultation with Representative Harding regarding his indictment, I am temporarily removing him from his committee assignments to allow him time to focus on this matter,” Speaker Paul Renner said Wednesday in a written statement.

“In America we adhere to the rule of law, and as such, Representative Harding is presumed innocent and will have the opportunity to plead his case before a court. Since the indictment does not relate to any aspect of his legislative duties, any further questions should be directed to his legal counsel.”

The Governor cannot remove a lawmaker from office, even if arrested. The Florida Constitution states that “each house shall be the sole judge of the qualifications” of members. To expel a lawmaker, each chamber needs a two-thirds majority vote.

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DeSantis education purge begins after school board takeovers

Ziegler, a co-founder of right-wing group Moms for Liberty, was one of two dozen school board candidates receiving endorsement from DeSantis



Florida Republican Governor Ron DeSantis (Screenshot/YouTube Tampa 10 News)

By Julia Conley | SARASOTA – Despite outcry from parents, teachers, and students, newly elected right-wing school board members in Sarasota County, Florida on Tuesday became the latest allies of Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis to oust a school superintendent over the district’s adherence to public health guidance during the coronavirus pandemic.

Dozens of community members gathered at a school board meeting in Sarasota County on Tuesday evening to support Brennan Asplen, the superintendent of schools since 2020, whose contract was the subject of the meeting.

The board met the same day new members, including Chair Bridget Ziegler, were sworn in. Ziegler, a co-founder of right-wing group Moms for Liberty, was one of two dozen school board candidates who received an endorsement from DeSantis during the midterm elections. The majority of those candidates, who received $1,000 contributions from the governor, won their elections.

At the meeting, members condemned Asplen “for not pushing back on the mask mandate” that was in place for three weeks in 2021 after the school board voted 3-2 in favor of the mandate, making Sarasota County the first in the state to defy DeSantis’ law blocking Covid-19 mitigation measures.

On Tuesday the board ultimately voted 4-1 in favor of negotiating a separation agreement with Asplen, after another board member, Thomas Edwards, warned the move would be a “carbon copy” of a similar ouster in Berkeley County, South Carolina earlier this month.

In that case, new school board members who had been endorsed by Moms for Liberty voted to fire the district’s superintendent and ban classroom discussions of racism in history and the present day.

Asplen is not the only school leader who has been pushed out of a superintendent position in Florida by DeSantis allies citing objections to public health protocols.

Five members of the Broward County school board this month fired Superintendent Vickie Cartwright over a grand jury report on the 2018 Parkland shooting. Like Asplen, Cartwright presided over the district during the pandemic and “faced frustration from some parents” over Covid-19 mitigation measures, which were implemented in violation of DeSantis’ order.

All of the members who voted to fire Cartwright were DeSantis appointees following the removal of previous members after a school safety investigation stemming from the 2018 Parkland school shooting.

WUSF Public Media reported earlier this year that the county is undergoing “a transformational shift” with the governor’s allies poised to take “a rare opportunity to advance conservative policy priorities in one of the state’s most Democratic-leaning counties.”

The superintendent of schools in Brevard County was also pushed out last week, hours after DeSantis-aligned school board members were sworn in.

Jonathan Friedman, director of free expression and education programs at PEN America, noted that parents from across the political spectrum have spoken out against the dismissals of school leaders in the Florida counties in recent weeks—”but to little avail.”

“The new playbook of total ideological control is in full swing,” said Friedman.

Bill Kimler, a former candidate for state House in South Carolina, noted that a right-wing takeover of school boards like the one in Berkeley County “is happening elsewhere in the country.”

“Every election cycle, we need to view school board positions with the same level of enthusiasm as we do the president of the USA,” said Kimler. “Our kids’ education cannot be left in the hand of extremists.”


Julia Conley is a staff writer for Common Dreams.

The preceding article was previously published by Common Dreams and is republished with permission.

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Florida Board of Medicine restricts trans youth healthcare

The Florida Health Care Administration’s rule ending Medicaid coverage for gender-affirming care in the state went into effect this summer



Los Angeles Blade graphic

ORLANDO – Today, the Florida Boards of Medicine and Osteopathy finalized their proposed rules to restrict gender affirming care for transgender youth in the state which, when in effect, will be the only ban on gender-affirming in effect in America. Similar measures in Alabama and Arkansas are currently blocked in court.

The board voted 6-3 (with five others not present) on Friday to adopt a new standard of care that forbids doctors to prescribe puberty blockers and hormones, or perform surgeries, until transgender patients are 18. Exceptions will be allowed for children who are already receiving the treatments.

The Boards landed on similar language that would bar future puberty blockers, hormone replacement therapy and extremely rare surgical interventions as treatments for gender dysphoria in youth.

That language included an exception for young people already receiving these treatments for gender dysphoria prior to the effective date of the rules. However, they disagreed on allowing nonsurgical treatments for gender dysphoria to continue through Institutional Review Board-approved clinical trials.

The Board of Osteopathy approved language allowing transgender youth to access gender-affirming care via those studies while the Board of Medicine rejected that proposal, paving the way for different rules governing MDs and DOs (Doctors of Osteopathy). No such IRB-approved studies are currently being conducted in Florida.

Once the rules are posted, advocates have the opportunity to request an additional hearing and workshop from the Boards, a move that groups have indicated they will take. If denied, the rules move to a 21-day period in which the public can submit written comments before a final, procedural vote by the Boards.

The New York Times reported that before the medical board decided to craft the new standard, members received personal calls from the state’s surgeon general, Dr. Joseph Ladapo, urging them to do so. Earlier this year, Florida became one of at least nine states to bar Medicaid coverage of gender-affirming care, affecting thousands of low-income adults and children.

“With young lives on the line, another state agency has placed the political ambitions of Ron DeSantis over its duty to protect Floridians,” said Nikole Parker, Equality Florida Director of Transgender Equality. “These rules, as written, put transgender youth at higher risk of depression, anxiety, and suicidality. Those are the facts purposely ignored by a Board of Medicine stacked with DeSantis political appointees who have put their toxic politics over people’s health and wellbeing. Transgender Floridians exist. We are part of this community. Gender-affirming care is lifesaving care — and it is care that is supported by every major medical organization, an overwhelming majority of medical providers, and should be left to young people, their families, and their doctors. Not politicians. Shame on the Florida Boards of Medicine and Osteopathy for trading the suffering of transgender youth and their parents for cheap political points.”

Dozens of advocates for transgender youth packed the meeting room today and thousands of people have sent messages to board members, since the start of this process, expressing their support for these young people, a demonstration of the unpopularity of continued attacks on the rights of youth and their families to access the health care they need by Republican Governor Ron DeSantis and his allies.

Public testimony included the powerful personal stories of transgender Floridians, families, allies and health care professionals all pointing to increased risks of depression, anxiety, and suicidality in transgender youth whose identities are not affirmed.

Commenters also pointed to the over $80,000 in donations from members of the Boards of Medicine and Osteopathy to DeSantis’ campaigns and political committee.

The rulemaking process was initiated after Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo sent a transphobic and medically inaccurate letter in April that officially positioned the Department of Health against health care for Florida’s transgender youth.

Similar policies targeting health care for transgender young people have faced legal challenges in other states, including an Arkansas ban that has been placed under preliminary injunction by a federal judge as the legal process moves forward.

In that case, the court ruled that a ban on gender-affirming care would cause “irreparable harm” to trans young people and their loved ones and would prohibit “medical treatment that conforms with the recognized standard of care.”

In Texas, enforcement of a rule against several families that allowed for child abuse investigations into parents who access gender-affirming care for their transgender children was also blocked, with the judge writing that “there is a substantial likelihood that Plaintiffs will prevail after a trial on the merits”.

A spokesperson for Equality Florida noted in a statement:

“This is the first time a state medical board has been weaponized in this way to ban medical treatments for transgender children. However, the Boards of Medicine and Osteopathy are just two among the many state agencies stacked by Governor DeSantis with right-wing extremists and subverted into weapons against LGBTQ Floridians.”

The Florida Agency for Health Care Administration’s rule ending Medicaid coverage for gender-affirming care in the state went into effect this summer. Last week, the State Board of Education adopted a new series of rules dramatically expanding enforcement of the Don’t Say LGBTQ Law, putting teachers’ licenses at risk and targeting school districts with LGBTQ-inclusive policies regarding bathrooms and locker rooms.

In July, the governor ordered the Department of Business and Professional Regulation in a complaint against an LGBTQ-owned small business in Miami, threatening to strip the restaurant of its liquor license after it hosted a drag performance at its weekly Sunday Brunch.

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