Tampon Turmoil: Installation of menstrual product dispensers in men’s bathrooms creates disruption
February 5, 2023
According to UCLA Williams Institute School of Law, 1.6 million people identify as transgender in the United States. Out of this number, 300,000 are youth (ages 13-17), and 36% identify as transgender men. As awareness for the LGBTQ+ community grows, the strength of the call for equality does as well.
Illinois Representative Barbara Hernandez took action by becoming the primary sponsor of Illinois House Bill HB156.
HB156 was passed in the Illinois House May 31, 2021, and became a public act August 13, 2021. Before this law was passed, the sole requirement of schools was to make what were formerly called “feminine hygiene products” available and free but did not contain the same specificity that the amended law now holds, stating they should be added to men’s bathrooms.
HB156 states “menstrual hygiene products are a health care necessity,” and that they must be available “in bathrooms of every school building that are open for student use in grades 4 through 12 during the regular school day.”
The first day the dispensers were installed, parents and community members called the school to voice concerns and ask about the legality of the implementation.
“The school districts pay for the products but the law doesn’t require them to have dispensers,” Representative Hernandez said. “Since it is state law, districts have to abide by it, however, if they don’t there’s no consequence.”
Herrick Middle School, a part of District 58, did not clarify if they had installed dispensers in the men’s bathrooms. However, both D99 schools, Downers Grove North and South, have installed the dispensers.
“We knew this was gonna be expensive, it was expensive at first when we put the free machines in the girls’ bathroom, but that tapered down,” Supervisor of Building and Grounds Michelle Cannan said. “I think it goes to gender fluidity these days and making kids comfortable and making sure that wherever they choose to use the facilities the products they need are readily available.”
DGN implemented this law over winter break by installing menstrual product dispensers into the men’s bathrooms on the third floor. They have since been put in every men’s bathroom used during the school day, where they have been vandalized, destroyed, and emptied.
“By about 20 minutes into the first school day back from break the first bathroom had been ‘hit’. Somebody had taken all the products and flushed them down the toilets and put them on the walls. Later that day, another bathroom was what I called ‘hit’, and all the products were in the lunchroom. At the end of the day, the third bathroom was “hit” by students flushing too many things down the toilet,” Cannan said.
Since their installation, dispensers have been broken and menstrual products have been found on the ceilings of men’s restrooms and around the commons. The men’s restroom next to room 365 has been closed for maintenance due to vandalism.
“It’s just opening the doors for people to destroy stuff,” senior Declan Moore said, “and I think that’s a little disrespectful on the students’ part, but I think that’s kind of on the school too for putting themselves in that situation in the first place.”
Freshman Joe Lasota also cited his disagreements with the installation of the dispensers, saying that they have the potential to become a “game” within the restrooms.
“I think it’s a little bit unnecessary. I don’t know if there’s much logic behind it because what even is the reason,” Lasota inquired. “Equality?”
Though the school has been vandalized, and the district criticized, from following HB156, Cannan said that the school does not plan on removing the dispensers.
“I don’t know if they will ever get used the way they need to be used in those bathrooms. But I don’t care, it’s the law, and it’s the right thing to do, so that’s what we’ll do. Right now we are not required to put them in athletic locker rooms or anything that’s just used after school. We might do it anyway once everything settles down,” Cannan said.
Phoenix Nystrom, a student who uses he/they pronouns, believes that this is a successful step forward for those who identify as transgender men and the transgender community as a whole.
“As an LGBTQ+ person, it’s really important to have these things accessible to us, and it’s important to have an open conversation about it,”” — Phoenix Nystrom
“As an LGBTQ+ person, it’s really important to have these things accessible to us, and it’s important to have an open conversation about it,””
— Phoenix Nystrom
“As an LGBTQ+ person, it’s really important to have these things accessible to us, and it’s important to have an open conversation about it,” (Owen Gervase )Nystrom said.
As of Jan. 20, a little over two weeks since the initial installation, all of the dispensers in the men’s bathrooms are empty, and only the dispensers in the gender neutral bathrooms have been refilled.
“I think it was smart of them to stop refilling them because kids don’t understand,” Moore said.“I think if you’re not sure what bathroom you are supposed to be using, you should be using the gender neutral bathrooms. A lot of people have a problem if they saw a dude in the girls’ bathroom or vice versa.”