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Ron DeSantis won’t let Florida bridges display rainbow lights for Pride

Bayside Marketplace Miami Downtown behind MacArthur Causeway shot from Venetian Causeway
Downtown Miami Photo: Shutterstock

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’s Republican administration will not allow the state’s bridges to display rainbow lights for Pride month this year.

In a May 8 post on X, DeSantis announced the state’s “2024 Florida Freedom Summer” initiative. The state-wide effort includes free admission to state parks during Memorial Day weekend and a sales tax holiday on recreational items throughout July.

As part of “Freedom Summer,” the state’s bridges will be illuminated in red, white, and blue lights from Memorial Day to Labor Day, Florida’s Department of Transportation (FDOT) Secretary Jared Perdue wrote in his own X post. The post featured a photo of Tampa Bay’s Sunshine Skyway bridge lit up in the colors of the U.S. flag.

“Thanks to the leadership of @GovRonDeSantis, Florida continues to be the freest state in the nation,” Perdue wrote.

As multiple local Florida outlets have noted, the “Freedom Summer” initiative means that bridges that would otherwise be lit in colors celebrating Pride, National Gun Violence Awareness Month, Juneteenth, and other summer holidays won’t be this year.

The FDOT has final approval over lighting display requests for the state’s bridges, according to the Sarasota Herald-Tribune. But in recent years, the agency has left decisions around Pride displays up to local county commissions, according to the Tampa Bay Times, following widespread public outcry over its denial of requests to light several Florida bridges in rainbow colors in 2021.

One of those bridges was the Sunshine Skyway, which spans Tampa Bay connecting Manatee, Hillsborough, and Pinellas counties. For the past three years, the bridge has displayed Pride colors for one week during June. But in February, FDOT administrators were informed in an email from Manatee County Administrator Charlie Bishop’s office that County Commission Chairperson Mike Rahn disapproved of displays for both Pride and National Gun Violence Awareness Day.

Critics, like St. Petersburg LGBTQ+ liaison Jim Nixon, expressed concern that Rahn had overstepped his authority, as FDOT policy requires a vote from the full county commission on bridge displays, the Tampa Bay Times reports.

Rahn, however, has cited the FDOT’s authority over the matter. “Manatee County is out of the business of lighting the bridge,” he told the Herald-Tribune recently. “This is an FDOT matter. My point is, I don’t own the bridge, I can’t open the bridge, I can’t shut down the bridge, I get no revenue from the bridge. Why is it my responsibility to light the bridge?”

“My concern also is if we are going to do it for one group, we have to do it for all groups no matter what their political stance is,” he continued. “I feel, personally, that the bridge is being politicized by different organizations.”

In an email to the Tampa Bay Times, Rahn expressed skepticism over the agency’s policy of leaving decisions over bridge lighting themes to local county commissions. “In my opinion, the lighting of the Sunshine Skyway Bridge is a FDOT matter and should not be left with to the individual counties,” he wrote.

It’s unclear whether Rahn’s objection to a rainbow light display on the Sunshine Skyline bridge had anything to do with the FDOT’s decision to light all Florida bridges in red, white, and blue for the “Freedom Summer” initiative. But Nixon is suspicious.

“It’s more like they didn’t want to make a decision,” he told the Tampa Bay Times. “We had proven Manatee was in violation and rather than upset either the county or the state, they made a change in lighting up the Skyway.”

St. Pete Pride president Byron Green-Calisch blasted the decision to cancel both Pride and National Gun Violence Awareness Day displays this year. “The queer community has been plagued with gun violence and so has the rest of Florida, from Pulse (nightclub shooting in Orlando) to Parkland (school shooting in South Florida). We need to remember those victims, so that hurts my heart to hear,” he said.

The decision is particularly galling as St. Pete Pride has paid $700 twice over the past three years to improve the computer program that controls the Sunshine Skyline’s light shows, according to the Tampa Bay Times.

In Sarasota, where the city’s Ringling Causeway Bridge is usually lit up in rainbow colors for Pride, a city spokesperson said there was nothing to be done, as the bridge is maintained by the FDOT.

“As the city cannot supersede the State,” Luke Mocherman told the Herald-Tribune, “all bridge lighting schemes previously approved by the city for special recognition between Memorial Day and Labor Day will not be provided in accordance with FDOT’s directive that bridge lighting remain red, white, and blue.”

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