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Why the Main Street Bridge in Jacksonville had rainbow colors

Why the Main Street Bridge in Jacksonville had rainbow colors

  • PublishedJune 1, 2024

Supporters of Jacksonville’s LGBTQ community organized a rainbow lighting of the Main Street Bridge Friday night.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — As night fell Friday on downtown Jacksonville, 70 people lined the pedestrian walkway of the Main Street bridge and simultaneously turned on high-powered flashlights that lit the bridge in a ribbon of rainbow colors arching above the St. Johns River.

The display on the eve of Pride Month came after the state Department of Transportation decided the nearby Acosta Bridge would be lit in red, white and blue for state government’s “Freedom Summer,” meaning the Acosta’s lighting system won’t have rainbow lights for Pride Month as it did the previous three years.

So a group from the LGBTQ community and their supporters took the lighting into their own hands by illuminating the Main Street bridge with rainbow lights.

“I thought it came off great,” said Jacksonville resident Matt McAllister, who helped organize the lighting event that came together in 48 hours.

“We thought we’d get 35 people for the bridge,” he said. “We thought that would be a good night — that we’d get a couple of pictures and send them to our friends and say we did something. That this took off in such a way is so pleasing.”

The 70 people holding flashlights on the bridge were cheered on by a big crowd watching from the Southbank riverwalk. It was a night of many lights in downtown: Friendship Fountain sent columns of multi-colored water into the air where the crowd watched the Main Street bridge, fireworks went off over the baseball field at the sports complex after a Jumbo Shrimp game, downtown towers had their usual array of decorative lighting, and the Acosta Bridge had red, white and blue lights running down the middle of it.

McAllister said he was in Leipzig, Germany, on a honeymoon with his husband when he learned about the state Department of Transportation’s directive for the red, white and blue lights from Memorial Day to Labor Day on all state-owned bridges. That also prevents rainbow lights for Pride Month on the Sunshine Skyway Bridge over Tampa Bay and the Ringling Bridge in Sarasota.

Hearing the news while he was in a city that used to be part of East Germany, McAllister said he decided when he got back home, it was important to take some action in response to the state’s decision on the Acosta Bridge. He said being able to see the Acosta in red, white and blue and the Main Street bridge in rainbow colors at the same time symbolizes that freedom and diversity are not mutually exclusive but actually depend on each other.

“If this is about freedom, let’s go exercise our freedom, and that’s what is so special about what we did tonight,” he said.

As for whether the bridge lighting was a celebration of Pride Month or a protest of the state’s decision, he said there was a wide range of views among those who turned out.

“This is definitely a response and more than a response in protest,” said Jacksonville resident Jessica Griffith, who watched the lights from the shore with her father. “We’re always going to celebrate who we are, welcome others and make sure they know there are safe, wonderful, affirming, embracing places.”

She said her father has “always been a huge supporter of me” and they had been trying for several years to do the annual Pride march over the Acosta Bridge. They weren’t able to make the marches so when they heard about the Main Street lighting, they went to it.

“It just reflects the joy and authenticity of everyone here,” she said.

Jacksonville resident Sherwin Salla was on the bridge holding an orange-beaming flashlight while he helped coordinate the light display.

“The biggest thing was just showing solidarity and making sure that our freedom is holding,” he said. “It was more of a fun celebration to show our community that we still stand strong.”

From his spot on the bridge, he couldn’t see the impact of the lighting across the span until a friend texted him a photo.

“When I first saw it, you could really tell the colors on the bridge,” he said. “It was amazing.”

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