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State Rejects Pride Lighting For Sunshine Skyway, Ringling Causeway

Rainbow colored lights illuminate the Acosta Bridge at night time in Jacksonville.
Fred Ortyl
Acosta Bridge in Jacksonville lit up with rainbow colors.

The Florida Department of Transportation has rejected plans to light bridges in St. Petersburg and Sarasota in honor of Pride Month, but went back on a similar denial in Jacksonville.

The Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) recently denied requests to illuminate the Sunshine Skyway Bridge and the John Ringling Causeway in Sarasota with rainbow colors to celebrate Pride Month.

The Acosta Bridge in Jacksonville had been lit up in similar colors until FDOT ordered the Jacksonville Transportation Authority to shut them off Tuesday after reportedly receiving several complaints.

However, WJCT News reports the change did not last for long, as public outcry led FDOT to reverse course, meaning the colors of the Pride flag were returned Wednesday.

There have been no updates regarding any possible changes for either the Sunshine Skyway or the Ringling Causeway.

According to the FDOT official guidelines, “Lighting colors and sequences shall be limited to preprogrammed themes developed with the lighting system plans during project development. New themes will be limited to the recognition, commemoration, and or promotion of federal or state holidays or celebrations. The lighting display will be decided by the department.”

The guidelines also state that they reserve the right to refuse any request that it deems offensive, or not in the best public interest.

WJCT News also reports that spokeswoman Taryn Fenske told them that Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ office was not involved in the bridge lighting decisions, despite the FDOT being a state-run department.

“It’s absurd to think otherwise,” Fenske said in an email to WJCT.

Sarasota Mayor Hagen Brody, who submitted the request for the John Ringling Causeway to be lit in the commemorative colors, finds it unfortunate that the matter has turned into a political controversy.

“We have come a long way, as far as civil and human rights, for our LGBTQ brothers and sisters, and for the state to turn this into a controversy, where there really shouldn't be one is disheartening,” said Brody.

Brody added that he could not speculate as to why the FDOT rejected the request.

“But I feel, at the end of the day, nothing strengthens the resolve of this community more than a little hiccup or a roadblock. So I have no doubt that we're going to figure out a way around it and we're gonna come back and we're gonna get it done -- if not for this year, definitely next year.”

Members of Sarasota Pride were also let down by the rejection, but are determined to keep moving forward.

“Sarasota Pride is disappointed in the state's decision. The city of Sarasota is working towards being more inclusive and the lighting of the bridge in rainbow colors would have been an important visual representation of that inclusion,” board member Heather Zangara said.

“But it won't deter us from working to make Sarasota a safe and welcoming place for everyone to live and visit. So while we're disappointed, we'll continue moving forward.”

“It is an important visual representation of the inclusion of the LGBTQ plus community in Sarasota,” said Zangara when asked about the lighting’s significance. “We feel it's important for everyone to feel as if they are welcome and safe, and that is a huge visual representation of that inclusion.”

Daniel Finton is a WUSF/USF Zimmerman School digital news intern for the summer of 2021.
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