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Rainbow lights on Florida bridge marking Pride Month turned back on after backlash

"It is obviously a matter of broad community interest," said a state Department of Transportation spokeswoman.
The Acosta Bridge is illuminated with rainbow lighting in honor of Pride Month, in downtown Jacksonville, Fla., on June 7, 2021.
The Acosta Bridge is illuminated with rainbow lighting in honor of Pride Month, in downtown Jacksonville, Fla., on June 7, 2021.Fred Ortyl / Jacksonville Transportation Authority via AP

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.

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.

“The Governor was most definitely not involved in that decision, and it’s absurd to think otherwise,” DeSantis’ communications director Taryn Fenske said. “The (Acosta) bridge lights will be back up for the remainder of the week.”

But many in Florida’s Gay community are deeply suspicious of DeSantis, a Republican who angered many by signing a law banning transgender athletes from taking part in school sports on the first day of Pride Month.

“The LGBTQ community is being targeted,” local Pride president Jordan Letschert told The Sarasota Herald-Tribune. “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.”

The FDOT has also said no to the idea of rainbow lights on the John Ringling Causeway Bridge in Sarasota and the Sunshine Skyway Bridge, which connects the city of St. Petersburg to Manatee County.

“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,” Sarasota Mayor Hagen Brody told NBC News. “This really should not be controversial and yet it’s come to this.”

Brody noted that just last year the FDOT raised no objections to the city bathing the bridge in red, white and blue lights to honor Covid-19 victims, but came up with technical excuses when he requested rainbow lights for Pride Month.

And U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist, a Democrat who is running for governor and represents St. Petersburg, has called it more evidence of “an all-out assault on the LGBTQ community by the DeSantis administration.”

In response, another DeSantis spokeswoman, Christina Pushaw, replied: “The allegations you mentioned are purely political, not factual.”

The order to turn off the rainbow colored lights on the Acosta Bridge appears to have come from a FDOT official named Mark Kuhn, according to an email supplied to NBC News by the Jacksonville Transportation Authority.

“We have received several complaints regarding the color scheme on the Acosta Bridge,” Kuhn wrote at 4:55 p.m. Tuesday. “Attached is the original permit and approved color schemes (by date). Please adhere to your Permitted color scheme effective Tuesday June 8, 2021.”

Kuhn, who did not respond to a call and email from NBC News for comment, did not say who complained. But the JTA said it would comply with the order and resume using its usual blue lights on Tuesday night.

“Our scheduled color scheme for the Acosta Bridge is out of compliance with our existing permit,” the JTA said in a statement, explaining the lighting switch.

On Wednesday, FDOT spokeswoman Beth Frady said in a statement the agency has given the JTA the green light to resume the rainbow lights on the Acosta Bridge “as it is obviously a matter of broad community interest.”