It’s been a colorful week of back and forth for city officials in Jacksonville, Florida. On Monday, June 7, the city debuted a decorative rainbow-light colored theme in downtown Jacksonville to help usher in Pride Month celebrations. The lights mimicked similar red, white and blue displays from previous months that had honored veterans over Memorial Day as well as COVID-19 victims earlier in the year.
On Tuesday night, however, the rainbow-themed lights had been switched back to their regular colors — only to return again on Wednesday.
Happy #Pride Jacksonville! Catch these colors on the Acosta Bridge all week.
📸 by Fred Ortyl pic.twitter.com/110dDWXFfz
— Jacksonville Transportation Authority (JTA) (@JTAFLA) June 8, 2021
Corky Siemaszko of NBC News reported on the controversy, saying “the state of Florida reversed itself Wednesday and said it would allow a downtown Jacksonville bridge to be decorated in rainbow-colored lights to mark Pride Month — just a day after it hit the dimmer switch on that celebration.”
According to Siemaszko, “a spokeswoman for Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis confirmed that the rainbow lights will be back on the Acosta Bridge in Jacksonville on Wednesday night, but insisted the governor played no role in the Florida Department of Transportation’s decision to turn them off.”
In a statement to the press, DeSantis’ communications director, Taryn Fenske, said, “The Governor was most definitely not involved in that decision, and it’s absurd to think otherwise. The bridge lights will be back up for the remainder of the week.”
Despite the denial, Siemaszko also reported that many in Florida’s LGBTQ community aren’t buying the denial from DeSantis, pointing to the fact that just days earlier, he’d also signed a law banning transgender athletes from taking part in school sports — a signing that took place on June 1, the first day of Pride Month.
In an interview with the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, local Pride president, Jordan Letschert, said, “The LGBTQ community is being targeted. The city of Sarasota is embracing us, but our governor and the state is sending the opposite message. They seem to be saying that we’re not welcome.”
Sarasota Mayor Hagen Brody told NBC News that a similar request he made to the state to display rainbow-colored lights on the John Ringling Causeway Bridge and the Sunshine Skyway Bridge was also flatly denied — even though similar lighting displays had been used by other groups on those bridges in the past.
“What we were trying to do is reflect the diversity of our community, and we saw this as a visual and fun way to show support for Pride Month,” he said. “This really should not be controversial, and yet it’s come to this.”
Siemaszko reported that “the order to turn off the rainbow-colored lights on the Acosta Bridge appears to have come from an FDOT official named Mark Kuhn, according to an email supplied to NBC News by the Jacksonville Transportation Authority.”
In the email, Kuhn wrote, “We have received several complaints regarding the color scheme on the Acosta Bridge. Attached is the original permit and approved color schemes (by date). Please adhere to your Permitted color scheme effective Tuesday, June 8, 2021.”
Kuhn has refused to say who complained about the LGBTQ colors on the bridge or comment further on his actions. Following the change in lighting displays Tuesday night, the JTA issued a statement saying, “Our scheduled color scheme for the Acosta Bridge is out of compliance with our existing permit.”
Public backlash and widespread reporting on the city and state’s decision to turn off the rainbow lights appeared to have made a difference, however. On Wednesday, June 10, following rampant social media and public criticism, FDOT spokeswoman Beth Frady issued a new statement saying the agency had reconsidered its decision and was giving the JTA the green light to resume its rainbow lighting on the Acosta Bridge “as it is obviously a matter of broad community interest.”