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Illinois House Approves Measure To Require Menstrual Products In School Girls’ And Boys’ Bathrooms

Richard Yeh/ WNYC

Democrats in the Illinois House this week approved a measure requiring public schools to supply menstruation products in both girls’ and boys’ bathrooms for grades 4 through 12.

State Rep. Kathleen Willis (D-Addison), a co-sponsor of the proposal, said products like tampons and sanitary napkins are needed in both girls’ and boys’ bathrooms in order to address the health needs of transgender students in addition to cisgender females.

“If you are biologically a female, but identifying as a male, you're going to menstruate and you're going to need these products,” Willis said on the House floor. “If you are identifying as a male and that's where the bathroom you want to go to because you feel most comfortable, you may need these products.”

Although a 2017 law required schools to provide certain menstrual products for free, it didn’t stipulate that these products be stored in bathrooms. Advocates claim this led to awkward situations where students would need to ask permission to go to the nurse’s office, or some other secondary location, in order to access emergency items.

The existing law also doesn’t apply to boys’ bathrooms.

But Republican lawmakers were opposed to the concept, claiming it was both unnecessary and expensive. In a heated debate on the floor with Democrats, State Rep. Andrew Chesney (R-Freeport) told the proposal’s chief sponsor he’d appreciate it if she would “stay the hell out of my bathrooms.”

“I mean, I know you're the party of science, but the science doesn't...those products are inapplicable in male bathrooms. I know, because I'm a male and that just — it doesn't work,” Chesney said. “There's only two genders, there are males and females. There have been male and female bathrooms for 100 years plus in this country.”

State Rep. Avery Bourne (R-Morrisonville), in a less animated fashion compared to her Republicans colleague, said because many 4th and 5th grades share buildings with lower elementary school grades, she was concerned the mandate would go beyond what is written in the bill and would be expensive for districts.

“This is a place where I think local control works,” Bourne said. “We need to have faith in our local school districts. They are caring for students in the way that they need to be cared for.”

The proposal passed out of the House along party lines. Although a majority of Democrats voted for the proposal, four Democratic lawmakers didn’t vote .

The proposal now heads over to the Senate where it may be voted on later this month.

Derek Cantù is NPR Illinois' graduate student Public Affairs Reporting intern for the spring 2021 legislative session.
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