News (USA)

Residents unite to thwart Ron DeSantis’s attempt to stop rainbow bridge lighting

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis Photo: YouTube screenshot

Pride Month in Jacksonville would have looked different this year if Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) had gotten his way.

While for the last three years, the city’s Acosta Bridge was lit up with rainbows to celebrate Pride, the Florida Department of Transportation said that bridges in the state would have to be lit up with red, white, and blue to celebrate “Freedom Summer,” which some critics have said was created to thwart municipalities showing Pride colors.

But Jacksonville residents decided to take matters into their own hands. On Friday night, 70 people stood on the pedestrian walkway of Main Street Bridge (near the Acosta Bridge) and simultaneously turned on multi-colored flashlights, creating a rainbow on the bridge above St. John’s River, reported the Jacksonville Times.

Matt McAllister helped organize the event in less than 48 hours. He was honeymooning with his husband in Leipzig, Germany, when he found out that the Department of Transportation had directed the red, white, and blue lights from Memorial Day to Labor Day on all state-owned bridges, meaning that no state-owned bridges would have Pride lights.

“We thought we’d get 35 people for the bridge,” McAllister said. “We thought that would be a good night — that we’d get a couple of pictures and send them to our friends and say we did something. That this took off in such a way is so pleasing.”

“I thought it came off great,” he said. McAllister pointed out that it was significant to see the Acosta Bridge lit up in red, white, and blue next to the Main Street Bridge lit up with rainbow colors. To him, it signifies that freedom and diversity are not mutually exclusive.

“If this is about freedom, let’s go exercise our freedom, and that’s what is so special about what we did tonight,” he said.

DeSantis announced last month that the state would be holding a “2024 Florida Freedom Summer.” As a part of the initiative, Florida bridges cannot be lit up in any color besides red, white, and blue. The initiative includes “free admission to state parks during Memorial Day weekend and a sales tax holiday on recreational items throughout July.”

However, the directive also means that bridges that would usually be lit in colors celebrating Pride, National Gun Violence Awareness Month, Juneteenth, and other summer holidays will instead have the colors of the American flag.

Sherwin Salla also helped coordinate the light display and was on the bridge holding an orange-colored light. “The biggest thing was just showing solidarity and making sure that our freedom is holding,” Salla said, “it was more of a fun celebration to show our community that we still stand strong.”

Jessica Griffith saw the lights from the shore with her father. She said that the two have tried to make it to the annual Pride march over the Acosta Bridge for several years and have not been able to. When they heard about the Main Street Bridge lights, they decided to go.

“We’re always going to celebrate who we are, welcome others, and make sure they know there are safe, wonderful, affirming, embracing places,” Griffith said. “It just reflects the joy and authenticity of everyone here.”

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