Menstrual Equity Win? Legislators Write off Trans and Nonbinary Youth
Recently, the Maryland legislature passed two bills, HB0205 and SB0427, requiring all Maryland public school districts to provide free menstrual products to elementary, middle and high school students. Although the bills had to be reintroduced two times over the past few years, the bills now hold the status of “enrolled.” Meaning, they will be presented to Maryland Governor Larry Hogan for signing.
Celebrations were short-lived, however, as the public soon discovered that trans and nonbinary students would be excluded because male-designated and gender-neutral bathrooms were amended out of the bills.
I spoke with Sol Diaz, a Maryland student activist who uses fae/they pronouns, to evaluate the impact of these amendments. From the intersectionality of menstrual inequity to apathetic legislators, Sol provides their insight.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
Obse Abebe: As someone who uses fae/they pronouns, how have your experiences been with discussions about menstrual equity and, if you’re comfortable speaking about it, with menstruation itself?
Sol Diaz: Menstrual equity often is only discussed in the context of cisgender women, which obviously leaves a lot of room for error.
In high school, I did not use the women’s bathroom. I would go to the nurse’s office or the men’s bathroom. The nurse’s office, at least in my school, was the only one with menstrual products. So a student who needs a pad during the school day has to walk across the school to go to the nurse’s office.
And the men’s bathrooms also do not have disposals for pads. So you would have to put it in the trash can, which is unsanitary for everyone. And also, it can be fairly dangerous if there might be a peer there who might see you, especially if you’re a student who is not out as trans.
So that can be a safety hazard for a lot of trans people. And also, there’s a lot of shame that most people experience around menstruation. Especially for transgender people with gender dysphoria, it’s already a deeply uncomfortable and painful experience — emotionally and physically.
OA: When you first heard of the bill’s status as “enrolled,” what was your initial reaction? How did this change when you learned that male-designated bathrooms and gender-neutral bathrooms were amended out of the bills?
SD: At first I was fairly excited because [although] I no longer menstruate, if it broke through my medication, I would rely on school products. And of course, I have friends who still do menstruate, who are trans, who would also need the service.
But it was fairly disappointing because there are a lot of people who need the bill. But they will now be at best inconvenienced and at worst, put in real danger because the bill hasn’t passed with its original qualifications.
OA: What do you think caused certain legislators to make this amendment?
SD: A variety of things. One of the main ones is blatant transphobia — not thinking it was necessary, not liking trans people, not wanting trans students to feel welcome in school.
I also think some people were less aggressively anti-trans, and they didn’t see the necessity.
If you can see the necessity of a female designated bathroom needing menstrual products, it is not hard to see the necessity of a student who uses another bathroom and menstruates needing those same products.
It’s a lot easier to ignore their needs, or say that they can compromise because a lot of transgender and nonbinary students have been compromising for a very long time. So it’s a lot easier for legislators to just let them keep compromising instead of actually fixing the root issue.
OA: What could menstrual equity organizers do to persuade legislators that are either blatantly transphobic or apathetic?
SD: Making it clear that this makes nonbinary and transgender students feel unsafe in schools, and not letting [legislators] ignore that, may push them to more openly support including trans and nonbinary people in the bill. And for a transphobic legislator, [doing this] removes their deniability that they didn’t do this to hurt trans people.
The other thing is to avoid including trans people as a side note. A lot of people have been working to use neutral language like “people with periods,” “many people who menstruate,” “people who need these products.” That’s been good.
So taking extra care to not use language that heavily implies this is a woman’s issue is important. Because while a lot of the problem is misogyny, trans and nonbinary people still experience that misogyny and deserve to be respected — not accidentally misgendered.
OA: Expanding on this discussion of convincing reluctant legislators, do you believe connecting them with trans and nonbinary youth is effective?
SD: Yes. The inclusion of trans people in advocating for this bill is extremely important because [legislators] need to see [trans and nonbinary] constituents to remember that they too exist.
While women [menstrual activists] can definitely be allies, they don’t always fully get why it’s so important. You need a trans perspective there to fully focus on it.
Also including more organizations for trans and nonbinary youth so they know this is an open space for them. Since it has come across as only a woman’s issue, many trans and nonbinary people feel uncomfortable inhabiting that space either because they feel like they’re taking the mic away or that they’ll be misgendered.
So making sure that the movement, even before we get more trans and nonbinary people into it, is extra clear that trans and nonbinary people are welcome.
OA: Getting into what you were saying about students who can access the female-designated bathrooms, what can they do to be allies and combat the amendment?
SA: I think one of the main things is to not be like, “Well, I got the menstrual product, so this is done now.” To be vocal about how it’s not okay to amend trans students out of this bill. We need more people to actively say, “Hey, this is not okay. We’re still happy about the bill, but this bill is not complete until all our school bathrooms are included in it.”
Menstruation is already so stigmatized and it’s extra stigmatized in non-women who menstruate.
Another thing is to not go up to a trans or nonbinary person who you know menstruates and be like, “Do you need a pad?” But [instead] making it clear to trans people in your life, if you carry extra products with you, that you have them.