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Lights on famous Florida bridge swapped, rainbow Pride colors removed for patriotic display

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A single county commissioner in Florida has reportedly nixed plans to honor Pride Month and Gun Violence Awareness Day with a rainbow light display on a flagship bridge.

After three years of displaying rainbow lights for a week in June, the Sunshine Skyway bridge will not light up to honor Pride Month in 2024 but will instead be part of a summer-long patriotic lighting display of red, white and blue lights.

Manatee County Commission Chairman Mike Rahn reportedly objected to the Pride and Gun Awareness displays this year on the bridge spanning Lower Tampa Bay. The Sunshine Skyway bridge has lit up in colors to raise awareness for breast cancer, autism and mental health while also flashing blue and white lights to support Israel, and blue and yellow to honor Ukraine.

This year, the Florida Department of Transportation announced that from Memorial Day to Labor Day, every bridge in the Sunshine State will display patriotic colors, effectively pre-empting any other displays.

“By installing a patriotic light display that will run for months, all the different displays that had been planned for the summer were scrubbed, including ones honoring 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 Tampa Bay Times reported.

FDOT policy holds that the commissions of Manatee, Hillsborough and Pinellas counties all have to approve lighting requests as the St. Petersburg-located bridge is connected to the three locations.

FDOT Secretary Jared Perdue announced “Freedom Summer” in a post on X.

Rahn approved light displays for the Alzheimer’s Foundation, National Ovarian Cancer Month and others, but a February email from the office of Manatee County Administrator Charlie Bishop informed officials that the chairman “will not be approving lighting of the Skyway for Pride Month or National Gun Violence Awareness Day.”

The email raised concerns among those who felt a single commissioner could not make the final decisions. But Rahn expressed his view about the FDOT making the final calls.

“I do not have the authority to override the governor of the state Florida. 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,” he said in a statement to Tampa Bay Times.