Occasionally we meet a kick-ass menstrual equity activist and feminist that we just want to tell the world about. Brooke Lopez is active in PERIOD, one of the leading organizations fighting to ensure safe, dignified periods for everyone. Brooke's been a standout in ensuring educational access for menstruators throughout Texas. Prepare to be inspired.
How did you find your passion for menstrual equity?
Growing up in an extremely conservative small town in North Texas, speaking about the “tabooed period” was unheard of at the time. I went to a high school that refused to put menstrual hygiene product dispensers in restrooms because of the potential for illicit drug distribution. Illicit drug distribution? Are you kidding me?
That’s not even the worst of the excuses I have heard when working on menstrual equity policy at institutions and I've heard them all. Reasons include we have no space for a dispenser in the restroom, we are too conservative of a campus to pursue this, and, the worst of all, we cannot fit that expense into our budget.
Bringing menstrual equity policy to Texas has been an uphill battle, to say the least.
What’s your methodology? How do you get around everyone’s objections?
I approach each institution with a unique menstrual equity proposal that best fits their needs. Some schools work best with a complimentary basket while others require a more secure dispenser with a timer-mechanism. Additionally, I share that 86% of menstruators start their period unexpectedly and 79% of menstruators “Macgyver”, or create makeshift products, during a time of need, increasing the risk for urinary tract infections or toxic shock syndrome. If these statistics aren’t startling enough, 62% of menstruators will leave wherever they are immediately in search of supplies (check out these stats from Free The Tampon).
For students, this can affect their educational opportunity; students who leave campus immediately to find products will spend valuable time out of the classroom. There is no reason to limit a student’s access to menstrual hygiene products when the health and educational opportunity of our future is at stake.
How do people react to this information?
The most exciting part of discussing menstrual equity policy with campus administration is actually their reaction to our research! Administrators, more often than not, tend to be unaware of the risks related to NOT having the appropriate products as a menstruator. The negative health consequences and missed classroom time are a huge concern for folks, but the strongest reaction we receive stems from the fact that not providing readily accessible products in public campus restrooms is a violation of Title IX - when menstruators are on their cycle, they are at a distinct disadvantage in the classroom if they can't locate free and accessible products, violating gender discrimination clause in Title IX. Administrators range in emotions when this research is shared but are overall supportive once they recognize the consequences that could be faced by both menstruating students and the institution as a whole.
What’s your biggest success?
At the end of 2017, Dallas Independent School District, housing 6.5 million citizens and ranking as the 14th largest in the nation, accepted a proposal to begin installing menstrual hygiene product dispensers across their campuses that will provide products for free. I am proud to share that myself, along with a handful of students from Skyline High School, were able to make this dream a reality. Proposing menstrual equity policy, structured recommendations that advocate for public institutions to provide free menstrual hygiene products in restrooms, has turned into a full-blown passion of mine. I have begun proposing similar policy recommendations in other culturally-aware higher education institutions in Texas including University of Texas at Dallas, University of Texas at Tyler, and University of North Texas.
What’s next for you?
I recently accepted an offer to attend the University of North Texas - Dallas College of Law, beginning my legal education in Fall 2018. I plan to continue my advocacy for social justice issues by studying civil rights law while in school.
Proposing policy centred around periods has been a long and difficult task in a conservative state like Texas but I am up for the challenge. The wave of institutions across the Lone Star state that are accepting menstrual equity policy as their new norm will continue to influence other institutions to follow suit. If you are interested in joining me on this journey, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org!
Brooke Lopez is an entering law student at the University of North Texas - Dallas College of Law. In her free time, when she isn't advocating for civil rights and social justice, she is hanging out with her hyperactive cat, Albus.