Standing before a crowd on the steps of Houston City Hall, U.S. Rep. Sylvia Garcia talked tampons.

“No one has a choice of whether or not to have a period,” she said. “I’m convinced that if men menstruated, there would be a tampon machine in every bathroom everywhere. This is just another way of not dealing with what’s perceived to be a woman’s issue. But this is not just a woman’s issue, this is about the health and wellbeing of not only the woman, but everyone around her. It’s about all of us.”

Garcia was the headliner of Saturday’s protest against the “tampon tax” levied against feminine hygiene products, a part of the nationwide rallies coordinated by PERIOD, an activist group fighting for freer access to menstrual products, in honor of National Period Day. The Houston rally was co-hosted by the Endometriosis Foundation Houston and organized by an all-youth group of activists, including high school students Saranna Zhang and Shania Hurtado, founders of PERIOD Houston.

About 40 people turned out for the event which featured a number of speakers, but Garcia, who had years of experience pushing for legislation to repeal the state tax on feminine hygiene products during her time in the Texas Legislature, was the star of the show.  

Garcia, who now represents the 29th District in Washington, D.C., recounted her last failed attempt to get rid of the state tampon tax, in 2017 during her last session in the Texas Lege. The bill was essentially dead on arrival, she explained. “We didn’t even get a hearing because the estimated revenue lost to the state was a concern to the finance committee. Of course, in the same year we reduced the fee for a gun license by half. Nobody worried about that. But when it comes to women, it was like ‘Oh we can’t do that,’” Garcia told the crowd.

Zhang said that she was excited about the resources for women available at the event provided by groups like Deeds Not Words and Planned Parenthood. “This is only the beginning,” Zhang said. “We were really lucky to have a Congresswoman here who has already promoted our message so much to end the taxation of menstrual products.”

As the rally played out, everyone who got up to speak had their own particular points to make.

Jenna Longoria, functional nutritionist and self-styled period guru, pointed out in her speech to the crowd that part of the problem is embarrassment surrounding advocacy for issues related to menstruation arising from a stigma surrounding the topic. “We really have to smash that period stigma, and then this issue will be made more important because we can talk about it more, period,” she said. “We’re all part of the solution right now because we’re all saying, ‘Periods,’ because it’s not a dirty word! It’s a natural function. What could be more natural than bleeding?”

Texas Southern University junior and campus organizer with Deeds Not Words, TeQuila Chatmon, closed out the rally by drawing attention to the urgency of this issue for low-income menstruators. “How is it possible, that currently in the first world, some people are faced with choosing between paying for hygiene products, or paying for a meal?” she said. “How is it possible that essentials like tampons, pads, and diva cups are taxed, when nonessentials like Viagra are not? Menstrual cycles are not just a female issue, and menstruation ain’t cheap. We need to stop taxing mother nature and eliminate the tampon tax.”

Avalon Hogans, who attends the High School for the Performing and Visual Arts with organizer Saranna Zhang, read an original poem in front of the crowd titled “Abolish the Tampon Tax” composed for the event. “I saw on social media that there were applications for student speakers so I decided to write a poem and submit it,” she said after the rally. “This is something I’m really passionate about. This issue isn’t just about the tax, it’s also a gender inequality problem, and menstruation shouldn’t be a taboo subject.” 

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