Fly Pride

The Pride Flag Will Fly High at Sarasota City Hall for the Month of June

In response Gov. Ron DeSantis' allowing only red, white and blue lights on state bridges this summer, City of Sarasota commissioners voted to fly the Pride flag for a month.

By Kim Doleatto May 21, 2024

Progress Pride flag

Since Gov. DeSantis' summer color scheme for bridges statewide will be limited to red, white and blue, the John Ringling Bridge can't light up with rainbow colors for Pride Month in support of the LGBTQ+ community like it has in the past.

City of Sarasota commissioners have come up with a compromise to send a message of inclusivity all the same.

Paul Lotierzo, executive director of local nonprofit Project Pride, went in front of the city commissioners during yesterday’s regular meeting to propose that, in light of the sudden change, they fly the Pride flag at City Hall for the month of June, instead. In the past, the flag has only flown it during the first week of June. 

This year, in addition to its rainbow stripes, the flag has a black circle, to include those who are intersex. Intersex refers to those who have ​​biological sex characteristics that don't fit into uniquely male or female categories. 

The commissioners voted unanimously in favor of the proposal. "It's good to have this as an alternative [to the bridge lighting]," vice mayor Jen Ahearn-Koch said of the month-long flag display. However, she noted, "far fewer people pass City Hall than the Ringling Bridge, so it's less exposure."

Although not part of the motion, part of the Pride initiative may include education, with information on the City of Sarasota website to direct the public to the Project Pride website, where they can learn about the Progress Pride flag and its symbols.

"The unanimous decision by the city to fly the flag is a significant move toward inclusivity—and without the bridge lights, this gesture ensures our pride and presence are still recognized," Lotierzo says. "I'm grateful for [the commissioners'] support. It compensates for the loss of the lights but shows our city's solidarity and reflects the commitment to representing all identities within the community." 

DeSantis' decision, part of his "Florida Freedom Summer" initiative, applies to all bridges maintained by the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT), which controls the light displays. FDOT has given local governments the power to make decisions about lighting in the past, but that's been overruled by DeSantis' new statewide directive. Locally, it means the Sunshine Skyway and Ringling bridges will be limited to red, white and blue lights from May 27 through Sept. 2.

In an Instagram post, DeSantis referred to the "Florida Freedom Summer"  initiative as “kicking off summer the right way.” Florida families will also be able to visit state parks free of charge for Memorial Day Weekend and the sales tax will be lifted for recreational activities and products.

However, "Freedom Summer" also impacts other awareness days. In addition to coinciding with the start of Pride Month, it will bar lighting displays for those advocating for gun violence awareness, Juneteenth, World Fragile X Day, Women's Equality Day, and National Recovery Day, which raises awareness about mental health and addiction.

And the term "Freedom Summer," which turns 60 this year, was originally used in a 1964 voter registration drive to increase the number of registered Black voters in Mississippi. More than 700 volunteers, both white and Black, banded together to fight voter intimidation at the polls. However, they were met with violent resistance from the Ku Klux Klan and local law enforcement. Beatings, false arrests and murder drew international attention to the civil rights movement and helped lead to the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

For the latest bridge lighting schedule, click here. For June events celebrating Pride month, click here and here. For more local resources supporting the LGBTQ+ community, click here and here.

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