Pride lights back on after Florida officials walk back ban

·3 min read
<p>The Acosta Bridge, Jacksonville, in Pride Month colours on Monday</p> (Fred Ortyl/Jacksonville Transportation Authority/Twitter)

The Acosta Bridge, Jacksonville, in Pride Month colours on Monday

(Fred Ortyl/Jacksonville Transportation Authority/Twitter)

Officials in Florida appeared to do a U-turn when they approved a lighting display on the Acosta Bridge for Pride Moth, after initially banning it.

According to the city of Jacksonville, it was told by Florida’s Department of Transportation on Tuesday to turn off rainbow lights on the Acosta Bridge because it was “out of compliance” with the city’s operating permit.

The lights were only turned on for Pride Month on Monday, and were due to stay on for a week before Jacksonville Transportation Authority (JTA) was told to turn off the rainbow lighting.

Following an outcry from Jacksonville locals, the FDOT told The Independent on Wednesday it was authorising the rainbow lighting because “it is obviously a matter of broad community interest”.

“While the schematic yesterday was not previously submitted/approved, in accordance with the bridge lighting policy, the department has since authorised its use as it is obviously a matter of broad community interest,” the FDOT’s director of communications, Beth Frady, added.

“As a result, the department will also be working with all local partners to ensure bridge lighting requests are facilitated consistently, fairly, and impartially.”

It follows the FDOT informing the JTA on Tuesday that its Pride Month lighting on the Acosta Bridge was “out of compliance”, despite the bridge lighting up for other causes and official holidays.

It was not immediately clear what part of the display was out of compliance, with a FDOT spokesperson telling on Tuesday that “that a certain colour palette is available” on the current permit.

According to the FDOT’s bridge lighting policy, the department reserves the right to refuse requests it deems offensive or not in the public’s best interest.

The policy, from September 2020, reads: “Special requests for lighting colours and sequences shall be limited to the recognition, commemoration, or promotion of federal or state holidays or celebrations, and events of broad community interest and significance approved by county or local governments.”

The FDOT confirmed to News4Jax that the office of Florida’s governor had not been involved in the decision, and that it was a local issue under FDOT investigation, after Mr DeSantis came under fire.

It is not the only decision concerning LGBT+ issues made by the FDOT in recent days – after it also refused a request from Sarasota to turn the Ringling Causeway Bridge into a rainbow for Pride Month, the Sarasota Herald-Tribune reported.

It was not clear if the request was approved on Wednesday along with the Acosta Bridge.

Both bridges are frequently lit up in different colours and for events including Autism Acceptance Month, Memorial Day, and NFL games — which the FDOT indicated did not comply with current operating licenses.

The bridges are owned by the state, but operated by city authorities with a permit.

After the Pride Month lights were singled out by officials, protesters had been organising a pro-Pride march across the Acosta Bridge on Saturday, according to a Facebook page, with more than 250 people interested in taking part.

It follows increasing attacks towards LGBT+ groups from Republicans, with more than 75 laws targeting transgender people at a state level introduced so far in 2020, according to the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union).

Mr DeSantis, after signing-off on a law banning transgender athletes from women’s sports in Florida, approved a budget removing funding for LGBT+ groups in recent days, as the Advocate reported.

A spokesperson for the governor’s office toldFlorida Politics on Wednesday that the operating licences for the bridges will be reassess going forward, after the issue in Jacksonville.

Taryn Fenske, the spokesperson, added that the FDOT was “letting it go,” and that other lighting displays “went up that were not on the approved list”, but that the Pride Month display was the first to be banned.

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