Ringling Bridge Lights for Pride

Todays News

Image courtesy City of Sarasota

The John Ringling Causeway Bridge this week lit up in rainbow colors, but only after the state initially rejected a request from the City of Sarasota on that lighting scheme. This state decision contributed to a stir during Pride month, a celebration of LGBTQ unity.

Sarasota City Commissioners voted unanimously to request the multi-color lighting on the bridge during June. It ultimately was approved mid-month, but only to light from June 22 to 28.

“Pride lighting the bridge is beautiful,” said City Commissioner Erik Arroyo, notably the only Republican on the board. “We approved the lighting unanimously and I’m confident that anytime we have the opportunity to make people happy with a small gesture, we will.”

City Commissioner Jennifer Ahearn-Koch sees the lights as celebrating America's greatest quality, freedom. "As long as you don't harm others, you are free to be who you are in the skin you were born in," she said. "You can have your religion, your race, and whatever your sexuality may be. We are all free to be who we are."

The Florida Department of Transportation, however, initially turned down the city request, and a similar one from St. Petersburg officials to light the Sunshine Skyway. The matter received statewide attention after Jacksonville officials lit up the Acosta Bridge but then turned out the lights at direction of the FDOT after the agency received a complaint.

The lights in Jacksonville were turned out for just a day, but it raised fresh scrutiny on other bridges. Gov Ron DeSantis at a Sarasota press conference last week fueled a question about the lights and stressed he had no role in the decision and believed it the FDOT direction more to do with code issues than any messaging.

"I want to reiterate that the Governor’s office had nothing to do with turning off the bridge lighting.," said DeSantis press secretary Christina Pushaw.

Within days, the FDOT allowed for rainbow lighting of the bridges.

Sarasota officials for their part said they believe the logistical challenges that come with bridge lightings had more to do with the initial reluctance.

“As to why they denied it at first, I obviously have no idea, but if I were going to guessm I’d say it was just because it is a little difficult to change the bridge lighting,” said City Commissioner Liz Alpert. “It takes some effort.”

Arroyo noted that since the FDOT started allowing bridge lightings, it’s become popular despite the cost and labor. “Last year there were four requests for red, white and blue colors,” Arroyo said. “This year there are over 30, with more colors. They [FDOT] understand that this will require them to hire more staff to keep track and make the changes for the bridges. It costs taxpayers about $5,000 to change it every time.”

So why did Sarasota officials unanimously decide that the Pride lights were a responsibility use of those dollars? Alpert said it’s about the values of the city. One of the first in Florida with a human rights ordinance, it has always been more progressive about accepting gay rights.

“It’s a recognition, to me at least, of inclusion, diversity all the things that we represent in the city of Sarasota,” she said.

City Commissioner Kyle Battie agreed. "It is always imperative that we stay vigilant in the pursuit of equality for all," he said. "When we stand firm in our humanity we can stand firm in celebration or the rights of others and acknowledge all that they've endured to get to this place."

Image courtesy City of Sarasota

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