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The Real Story about HB 3294

So what’s behind Oregon’s House Bill 3294 mandating menstrual products in boy’s bathrooms at school? Oregon Democrats and Republican Christine Drazan, who voted for it, caught hell for this during the gubernatorial primary and continue to be the laughing stock of right-wing media across the nation.

At first glance you might ask yourself “what were they thinking?” However, there is a large constituency for the bill, also called the Menstrual Dignity Act, which aims to end “period poverty” and the shame and stigma society places on menstruation. Support and lobbying for the bill came from student organizations, teachers, the Oregon Education Association and the Oregon School Boards Association. The Oregon Department of Education (ODE) put out a “Menstrual Dignity for Students Toolkit” for educators, students and parents to learn about the “Four Pillars of Menstrual Dignity;” Privacy (having safe private places to access, use and dispose of menstrual products), Inclusivity (affirming and honoring differences), Access (equitable access to products for all students) and Education (understand how bodies work without shame or stigma).

The ODE will fund the project through a $5,595,000 carveout of the State School Fund each biennium. School districts will get grants to pay for the dispensers and products based on their average daily attendance.

Teachers and social workers testified that a significant number of students come from families that can’t afford menstrual products so they are forced to stay home a few days a month to avoid embarrassment. Others, including students representing the advocacy group PERIOD, say they want the appearance of menstrual products in all bathrooms to “normalize” menstruation as a bodily function as well as show respect for the needs of trans youth. These students shared stories about getting their periods unexpectedly and not being able to find someone with any to share. One said this severely compromised her scores on her ACT test.
Right-wing media, of course, launched into jokes and criticism about how boys will clog toilets with tampons or stick sanitary napkins to the mirrors in their restrooms and how much this effort will cost taxpayers. Republican candidate for governor, Bridget Barton, said “Radical leftist woke policies are destroying Oregon…I can’t believe we’re even discussing putting tampons on boys’ bathrooms.” Christian media says it encourages children to become trans, some critics said the quality of the items supplied for free would be poor and boys complained they’d be subject to harsh punishment for disrespectful abuse of the products.

House Bill 3294 passed with a flurry of other legislation in the last days of the regular 2021 session and it was signed by Governor Kate Brown. A similar bill proposed in 2019 died in committee. It requires all public institutions of education, including charter schools, colleges and education service districts, to provide free menstrual products in at least two bathrooms in each building by July of 2022. The bill also expands access to gender-neutral restrooms. The state of Illinois passed a bill like this one in 2021. Their bill extended free menstrual products to homeless shelters as well, but for some reason Oregon gets the brunt of the right-wing scorn.