The Value of Accessibility. Period.

“I don’t know if there was any one, specific moment that made me realize people deserve humanity.”

That was my response when asked about where my interest in menstrual hygiene access came from. You see, the conversation around the need for menstrual hygiene access is essentially nonexistent due to social stigma, and the act of merely speaking about menstruation in a public setting may be seen as radical to some, while others may not even be aware of the need in the first place. This is the climate in which my passion grows.

My name is Taylor M. Parker; I’m a student at IUPUI and everyday philanthropist. I serve in many areas of the community, but I am most passionate about my work as a menstrual hygiene access activist.

Did you know that, on average, a person that menstruates pays $7 per month for 40 years for these products? While $7 may not seem like much to some, it’s an expense far too many cannot afford. Think back to that moment of panic you had, or a friend has had, when you, or they, forgot to bring a tampon one day. Now imagine living with that fear, always. That is the reality for people all around us – co-workers, classmates, friends, and family. More often than not, the people directly impacted by this inaccessibility will not bring up their plight in everyday conversation but continue to struggle in silence. Those who do speak out frequently have their bravery overlooked and pushed aside, due to the unfortunate fact that people are generally uncomfortable with the topic.

While in high school, I gained a reputation for being an approachable, open-minded advocate for other students. During my junior year, a friend of mine approached me after class to ask for $5 so she could buy a box of tampons. I was quick to say “absolutely,” and I bought her a box, only for her to come to me again a month later with the same request. This time, however, she gave me more context regarding her situation. Her father, her family’s only source of income, had been laid off and her family couldn’t afford groceries, let alone tampons for her and the other women in her household. I continued to buy the menstrual products her family needed until her father found another job, but during that time, I discovered just how large a need this was and how inaccessible these products are. Claire Coder, the founder of Aunt Flow, said it best when she said “menstrual products are not a luxury. Yet, they are not covered by food stamps or WIC, and are taxed as luxury items in most states. No one should EVER be forced to choose between food and tampons.” As much as this might seem an obvious conclusion to you, it’s generally not a topic spoken about or thought of because of the social stigma around menstruation.

Flash forward to November 5, 2017, two and a half years after my friend first approached me about her predicament, when I stood outside of Banker’s Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, IN, watching fans bring donations as they entered the concert venue before Lady Gaga’s performance that evening. Born This Way Foundation and Peace First helped me plan a menstrual product drive for the next day, and I felt heartened by all of the people who contributed. The week before the concert, the venue and Live Nation had shared my mission and a call-to-action for her fans and ticket holders to get involved and give back by bringing donations to the show. What began as a small donation of one box of tampons between friends grew into a massive collection that yielded upwards of 6,000 menstrual products.

I asked fans that donated about their motivations and what lead them to donate. One of them said “I know how scary it is not to have these when I need them. I want to help someone.” Another told me, “I didn’t realize this was an issue, but I knew I had to do something about it when I found out.” I could tell the act of giving truly moved the two of those fans, but there was one fan that had a different motivation. This fan told me, “I would do anything for [Lady] Gaga, and if she tells me to give, I’ll give. She knows what she’s about. She knows kindness.” It was in these moments of connecting with other fans with big hearts that I realized that kindness is abundant at all times, regardless of how upsetting or discouraging the world may seem at times.

All of my closest friends and coworkers know that celebrities using their platform for the common good excites me to no end, and Lady Gaga’s philanthropy is no exception. With her endorsement, we were able to collect and give away around 6,700 menstrual hygiene products and 450 clothing items to be distributed to all students in need, specifically women, transgender individuals, and members of other marginalized communities. I could not have been more honored and grateful to have worked with Born This Way Foundation and Peace First on this event, an event that directly benefited more than 100 IUPUI students, faculty, and staff. And I’ll keep the momentum going! I am collaborating with others on an advocacy campaign that will make these products accessible to IUPUI students and educate the undergraduate population about this issue.

While I will be advocating for menstrual hygiene access at IUPUI until I graduate in May, there are ways YOU can get involved too! Contact your local homeless and women’s shelters to learn about their donation process and how you can make menstrual hygiene access a reality for the people they serve. Purchase your menstrual products from Aunt Flow, a buy-one-give-one company that “ensures all people have access to menstrual products.” If you don’t have the means to donate, spread the word to your friends and family and raise awareness about this lack of access. All social change begins with education and advocacy. There’s always a way to help those in need, regardless of what resources you may have, and there’s always an opportunity to channel kindness into the lives of others.

If you want to see more of the work that the LGBTQ Student Alliance at IUPUI is doing, feel free to follow us on Facebook! If you don’t see the opportunities you want in front of you, create them and fuel your ambition for helping others and channeling your kindness. There are numerous support networks out there that are willing and ready to help us change the world, we just need to take advantage of them.

Learn about the problem. Share the passion with others. Give to those in need. Support those also doing the work. Be well. 

By: Taylor M. Parker