JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Days after the Acosta Bridge was re-lit in the colors of the rainbow, hundreds gathered Saturday to support the LGBTQ+ community.
The protest walk was originally planned when the state opted to tell JTA it could no longer use a rainbow light display in celebration of Pride Month on the bridge.
But with hundreds stepping across the bridge’s sidewalks waving Pride flags in rainbow colors Saturday morning, it’s hard to argue the bridge has ever looked brighter.
“It is really a beautiful thing to see,” said Jimmy Midyette, Equality Florida’s North Florida Development Officer. “You can turn off our lights, but you can never turn off our pride and that’s what today is about.”
The demonstration plan began Tuesday when the Florida Department of Transportation told JTA its rainbow light display was “out of compliance” with its permit and had to be turned off. The I-TEAM later learned the state stepped in because of five phone calls complaining about the lights.
FDOT reversed its decision the next day and allowed JTA to resume the rainbow lights “as it is obviously a matter of broad community interest.”
Despite the reversal, organizers opted to continue with Saturday’s protest on the bridge, saying they thought it was important to still make sure their voices were heard.
Mark Judson, who organized the walk on Facebook, wrote: “The lights are back on! Great work, everyone. It’s still important to make our voices heard as LGBTQIA+ rights are under constant assault. So, we still plan to take our pride and allyship to the bridge on Saturday.”
Kerry Boatwright-Wells, his husband, Billy Wells and their daughter rallied Saturday.
“We’re kind of used to the gut punches at this point, but we are just going to keep rolling with it and our voices continue to be heard,” Boatwright-Wells said. “For us it’s about visibility, making sure our family is protected and heard and making sure love wins.”
News4Jax has learned that JTA itself received 11 calls concerning the Acosta Bridge pride lighting this week. Of those calls, eight were in support of the colors while three were opposed, according to public records. News4Jax has made a similar request to FDOT.
The group that walked the bridge Saturday also took a moment to honor the 49 lives lost five years ago in the Pulse nightclub massacre in Orlando -- and to demonstrate against recent legislation regarding transgender athletes in Florida.
Midyette said he understands why many in the LGBTQ+ community feel discouraged during this Pride Month.
“There has been a really tough time for our community this month,” Midyette said. “Between the veto for the Pulse survivors, the veto for LGBT youth funding in Central Florida and that absolutely oppressive transgender student-athlete ban; but it can be easy to get down, take heart, keep pride, we are here and we are going to accomplish what we need to do.”
Despite finger-pointing and questions being raised by activists and politicians after the state rejected a request from Sarasota to light the Ringling Causeway Bridge with rainbow lights, the governor’s office has denied any involvement with the decision to stop the rainbow lights in Jacksonville.
When asked about the bridge lighting issue in Sarasota during a news conference Friday, Gov. Ron DeSantis said it’s an FDOT issue.
“I am not involved in bridge lighting. I think they are just doing it based on code,” DeSantis said. “I don’t think they’re getting involved in any messaging on that.”
Each month, JTA compiles a schedule to recognize different holidays, monthly awareness campaigns, special events, college and professional football games and other observances.
Here is the schedule:
- June 7-13: Pride Month -- Rainbow
- June 18: Sickle Cell Awareness -- Red
- June 19: Juneteenth -- Red, Black and Green
- June 20-24: PTSD Awareness Month -- Teal
- June 25-27: 100th Anniversary of the Acosta Bridge opening -- Yellow and Acosta Blue
- July 1-4: Independence Day Holiday Week -- Red, White and Blue