Home of Republican who crafted Florida’s ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill is destroyed by tornado

‘We are blessed. It could have been a lot worse,’ Joe Harding says

Gino Spocchia
Thursday 17 March 2022 14:41
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‘You can see our tent is shaking like crazy’: Tornado on Florida beach shocks beachgoers

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The home of the Republican lawmaker who crafted Florida’s widely condemned ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill has been badly damaged by a tornado, according to reports.

Joe Harding, whose bill was approved by the state’s legislature this month despite widespread criticism, had his home in central Florida ravaged by 110mph winds last weekend.

He told Florida Politics that while he was away, his family was at home on Saturday morning when the twister struck.

“We are blessed. It could have been a lot worse,” he said.

The Republican’s home in Ocala was among dozens destroyed or damaged in the tornado, according to the National Weather Service.

The agency earlier determined the tornado as an EF-1 tornado, which is the second-weakest class of twister with wind speeds typically from 80 to 110mph.

On Twitter, the tornado damage caused at least one campaigner to argue that Mr Harding was “b**** slapped by God”.

“I’m not a believer, but the tornado that just ripped apart the home of the author of Florida’s ‘Don’t Say Gay’ law is making me reconsider,” wrote USA Today columnist and LGBT+ activist Michael J Stern. “Hey, Joe Harding (@josephbharding), God thinks you’re a rotten bigot and just b***h-slapped you”.

The Republican has been heavily criticised by LGBT+ campaigners for his bill, which effectively bans classroom discussion about LGBT+ and transgender topics below third grade, and forbids lessons about LGBT+ issues.

The bill, which has been described as “hateful” by the White House as well as Democrats, almost included an amendment that was withdrawn by Mr Harding that would have forced teachers to out their children. The measure did not pass amid backlash from LGBT+ campaigners and others.

Estimates suggest that damage from the Ocala tornado - which tore across 25 miles in 30 minutes - amounts to $12.3m (£9.3m).

The Ocala Police Department said multiple buildings were damaged, with the worst seen in southwest Ocala and in nearby Dunnellon, where cars, tress and power lines were damaged.

“Today tornadoes hit Ocala hard,” Mr Harding wrote on Twitter on Sunday. “We saw the kindness in each other on full display. Material things can be replaced, human life can’t!”

The Independent has approached Mr Harding for comment.

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