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TN Politics: Culture War Laws Get First Tests in Public Spheres

Private business owners in Memphis are considering whether or not signage approved by Gov. Bill Lee is necessary to protect Republicans from sharing restrooms with transgender individuals.

Patriotism and protest were in the news this week as Capitol Democrats assembled a committee to investigate the Jan. 6 insurrection. And in Tennessee, factions weigh in on what constitutes Critical Race Theory and whether transgender bathroom signage will catch on in liberal Memphis.

Political analyst Otis Sanford says Mississippi U.S. Congressman Bennie Thompson was a solid choice to chair the select committee on the capitol insurrection, if only because his history won't get in the way of a process that will undoubtedly face fierce partisanship.

In middle Tennessee, a group of parents are leading the charge to remove elements of Black history from their elementary school curricula under the banner of the state's new ban on Critical Race Theory. While the school district and Tennessee's Department of Education deny that CRT is being taught, parents now see a legal path to erasing Black historical figures such as civil rights icons Martin Luther King, Jr. and Ruby Bridges, as the law requires teachers to omit racism as a chief factor of their importance.

Sanford speculates that parents in white school districts will use the anti-CRT law to further dilute information about race, while in Shelby County, educators will likely ignore the law.

Another law that may get little traction in Memphis requires red and yellow warning notices on bathrooms informing the public that transgendered people are allowed to use the restrooms. Nashville's district attorney has indicated he would not prosecute businesses that refuse to post the signs. Sanford says local DA Amy Weirich would likely pay little attention to the law, as she faces reelection in a city that largely views this signage as discriminatory.