Iconic Florida Bridge Won’t Light Up in Pride Colors This June After Complaint

Visit St. Petersburg/Clearwater
Visit St. Petersburg/Clearwater

A county commissioner’s disproval of a Pride Month tradition on Florida’s iconic Sunshine Skyway Bridge appears to have nudged the state to scrap its annual rainbow light display entirely this June.

The Florida Department of Transportation announced this month that the bridge, which traverses Tampa Bay, will have only a display of red, white, and blue lights throughout the summer, from Memorial Day to Labor Day.

The DOT made no mention of the commissioner’s complaint, but the Tampa Bay Times reported that all light displays on the bridge must be approved by the commissions of the three counties it touches—Manatee, Pinellas, and Hillsborough.

It was in Manatee, the most conservative of the trio, where the Commission Chairman Mike Rahn objected to the bridge lighting up to honor LGBTQ people during Pride Month and on Gun Violence Awareness Day.

In a Feb. 13 email from the office of Manatee County Administrator Charlie Bishop, the Times reported that he wrote that Rahn “will not be approving lighting of the Skyway for Pride Month or National Gun Violence Awareness Day.” Rahn doesn’t appear to be against light shows on the bridge in general. He reportedly approved of special displays for the Alzheimer’s Foundation, National Ovarian Cancer Month, and others.

Months after that email, the decision from state transportation authorities was in—the beautiful array of lights for Pride Month and other summer holidays wouldn’t get their own time to shine above Tampa Bay in 2024.

The Pride light display took place each of the last three years with little outcry, and tourists and locals alike have flocked to the bridge to photograph shows put on by its LED lights since they were installed in 2019 at a cost of $15 million.

After his initial objection, the Times reported Rahn appeared to hand off the issue to state officials. He said in a follow-up email that the state’s DOT should make decisions on light displays on roadways and not commissioners.

“I do not have the authority to override the governor of the state Florida,” he told the Times. “However, in my opinion, the lighting of the Sunshine Skyway Bridge is a FDOT matter and should not be left with to the individual counties.”

FDOT Secretary Jared Perdue said last week that the daily red, white, and blue display was to celebrate “freedom summer,” referencing legislation signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis that will remove sales tax on state parks, museums, and outdoor recreation equipment in July.

The new, months-long display will wipe out planned special lighting for Mental Health Awareness (May 28-31), Juneteenth (June 19) and Ovarian Cancer Awareness (Sept. 1-7). Others that were close to getting approval were Sickle Cell Awareness Day (June 18), World Fragile X Day for autism (July 22), and Pride (June 20-28), the Times reported.

Holidays aside, the bridge’s 1,800 LED lights have been used to put on light displays to honor college graduates, to show support for Ukraine, to celebrate the success of local sports teams, and much more. None of those displays lasted nearly as long as “freedom summer” calls for, however, the Times reported.

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