“The FDOT informed the JTA that our scheduled color scheme for the Acosta Bridge is out of compliance with our existing permit,” JTA spokesman David Cawton said. “The JTA will comply accordingly.”
The move came after Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) signed a much-debated transgender girls sports ban on the first day of Pride Month and sparked immediate uproar from critics claiming he was targeting LGBTQ causes.
Beth Frady, a spokeswoman for the state’s Department of Transportation, told The Post that the agency authorized the rainbow lights Wednesday. The decision to turn the lights off was made at the local level and not from the governor’s office, Frady said.
“While the schematic yesterday was not previously submitted/approved, in accordance with the bridge lighting policy, the department has since authorized its use as it is obviously a matter of broad community interest,” said Frady, adding that the agency would work “to ensure bridge lighting requests are facilitated consistently, fairly, and impartially.”
DeSantis spokeswoman Taryn Fenske told the Florida Times-Union that the rainbow lights would return to the bridge Wednesday night, saying that it was unclear to the governor’s office what resulted in the lights being changed at the last minute.
“The bottom line is, lights will be back up tonight,” she said. Fenske added on Twitter, “I want to be very clear that we/our office had no involvement.”
The back-and-forth over the bridge’s lights comes amid a contentious time between DeSantis and the state’s LGBTQ population. The Republican governor signed a bill last week barring transgender girls and women from being a part of public school teams intended for those identified as girls at birth. The new law, which was decried by Democrats and LGBTQ advocates as unconstitutional, is likely to be challenged in court.
“In Florida, girls are going to play girls’ sports and boys are going to play boys’ sports,” he said as he signed the bill. “We’re going to make sure that that’s the reality.”
He further inflamed LGBTQ advocates when he vetoed $150,000 in funds for those affected by the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando. The money would have gone toward a program offering mental health services for survivors and their families.
The Jacksonville incident follows a similar one last week in Sarasota, Fla., where the state’s Department of Transportation denied the city’s request to light the John Ringling Causeway Bridge in rainbow lights in honor of Pride Month, reported the Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Sarasota Mayor Hagen Brody called the FDOT’s decision “frustrating” at a time when the city is recognizing Pride Month for the first time in its history.
“It’s frustrating,” Brody said to the Herald-Tribune. “I think the state is being a little rigid … I didn’t think this request would be anything controversial. It’s really surprising to get pushback from the state.”
The city of Jacksonville has regularly lit up the Acosta Bridge to honor groups, recognize holidays and celebrate good news. Memorial Day and the Fourth of July have the bridge in red, white and blue. When the Jacksonville Jaguars were on the verge of selecting Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence as the top pick in April’s NFL Draft, the bridge was lit up in orange and purple for the player’s school. Other scheduled bridge lightings this summer will honor sickle-cell awareness, Juneteenth and the 100-year anniversary of the Acosta Bridge opening up, according to WJXT.
The city had planned to light the Acosta Bridge in rainbow colors between Tuesday and Sunday in honor of Pride.
“Catch these colors on the Acosta Bridge all week,” the agency tweeted Tuesday morning.
But even though the rainbow lighting is owned and operated by JTA, the FDOT claimed more was needed by the city since the lights are on a state structure.
A protest scheduled for Saturday is encouraging demonstrators to walk across the bridge with their Pride flags.
Critics were quick to slam DeSantis and his administration for their handling of the Jacksonville bridge lights. Stephen Gaskill, the president of the Florida LGBTQ+ Democratic Caucus, noted to WJAX how “it’s kind of appalling that it’s gone from something that’s a celebration to now a controversy.” State Rep. Carlos G. Smith (D-Fla.), the first openly LGBTQ Hispanic lawmaker elected to the Florida legislature, echoed those sentiments toward DeSantis on Twitter.
“Should LGBTQ Floridians give the benefit of the doubt or BELIEVE HIM when he shows us who he is?” he said.