5 min read
by Toni Brannagan | 05/28/2021
Think it’s just May 28? Think again — today’s Menstrual Hygiene Day: a global advocacy program that brings people together to promote menstrual hygiene management. The ability to access the products they need to healthily manage their menstruation shapes the lives of people. Period poverty impacts not only health, but self-esteem, education, and economic empowerment.
Today, we want you to meet an organization that has been battling period poverty in their Philadelphia community since 2012: No More Secrets Mind Body Spirit, Inc. This comprehensive sexuality awareness organization currently distributes over 38,000 period products a week, and just this year, opened the world’s first menstrual hub. The SPOT (Safety Programming for Optimum Transformation) Period is a two-thousand square feet space that serves as a donation and distribution center for period products of all kinds, and also a full-service wellness center for the community.
Read on for our conversation with Lynette Medley, a sexual health counselor and their founder, to learn about how No More Secrets and the menstrual hub came to be:
Lynette Medley: We really wanted to tackle ideas around sexuality as a whole that were stigmatized or considered taboo, especially in marginalized communities. No More Secrets was started to attack these crucial conversations in a nonjudgmental, realistic way.
I grew up in a traditional African American family with religious underpinnings. Sexuality wasn’t something that was ever discussed — you had to figure it out on your own. Growing up in that household and being very active in the church, I realized I had a lot of questions myself. As a Sunday School teacher, I was also always the one to start having these conversations with other young people. I was really intentional about creating safe spaces for authentic information sharing and talking about sexuality as a natural part of life, instead of using victim-blaming and sex-shaming language.
I realized this was still my passion in college, went into mental health and social work, and got a Masters in human sexuality — I think that’s the foundation of No More Secrets, we want to make people feel good about themselves and in turn, make healthier decisions. Even though we give you the information and the facts, it has to start with your self-perception. I’ve always felt like there was a void, especially in Black communities, in religious communities, even around women—all three of these things that I am—sexuality was never positioned in a positive, normal, natural way.
LM: The hub offers therapeutic services, counseling, and education. We’ve also partnered with an organization Goldenrod that’s housed inside the hub so we offer re-entry services for women who are released from prison. In true authenticity, we offer the services in a way that’s different because we’ve actually experienced period poverty and menstrual insecurity ourselves. We don’t lie or hide the fact that my children’s father is incarcerated for life without parole, so we’ve been through every system that most of the people who come into our centers experience.
We also have the Breonna Taylor Safe Space Room, where we have futons, a television, pillows. One thing we realized during the pandemic was that period poverty isn’t a singular issue, it’s multidisciplinary. The Breonna Taylor room is a space they can come into and relax while we help them find food resources, housing resources, clothing resources, healthcare resources. They also have access to the computer lab — we also realized when everything went virtual during the pandemic that so many marginalized communities didn’t have access to wifi.
SPOT stands for Safety Programming for Optimum Transformation — you can’t show your vulnerability and be authentic in your conversations if you don’t feel safe. From me experiencing systems myself and understanding how oppression sometimes alleviates choice, spaces often look so stoic and institutionalized, like they want you to know you’re in poverty. I wanted this to feel like home. So when you come in, you leave all the trauma that affects women and girls in our communities, and have access to everything you need to live in dignity.
LM: Overall, it came from identifying the need to address period poverty as a whole. We didn’t start as a menstrual organization, the work I was doing was around consent, bodily autonomy, and teaching people to make informed choices. I was referred a lot of young people through my therapy and counseling programs, and I was told they didn’t understand how we were asking them to respect their bodies when one week out of the month no one cares about them, and anything goes to do what they need to get pads or tampons. Talking to these young ladies who live at home with their families that had to use unhealthy methodologies to deal with their periods, really uncovered this is still an issue in our backyard — in the United States.
We created the first bank in our office to make these products available, then created a rapid-response delivery service to go door-to-door to people actually living at home in poverty, to people who are dealing with economic issues. Especially during the pandemic, people who were dealing with economic hardships were left to their own devices because everything was outside of their communities, outside their houses. We went from about 85 deliveries to about 275 a week, because nobody really thought about this insecurity in our community. The lack of being able to sustain this type of model and realizing that people need so much more than products—education, resources—that’s what fed into our desire to open the menstrual hub.
LM: We’ve come from a society that’s stigmatized the menstrual cycle from the onset. It’s deemed disgusting, and they’ve actually brainwashed people who have menstrual cycles to think that we shouldn’t talk about it ourselves.
Period poverty is also so much more expansive than how it’s presented. A lot of the menstrual equity push, and I’ll be blunt, comes from a place of privilege. We’ll talk about the tampon tax, and putting products in buildings and different things like that, but that’s a high level conversation. My fear is if you change the laws up there, it won’t change the laws down here. If you put products in bathrooms and schools, then a national pandemic hits and everything shuts down… that wouldn’t have affected period poverty. It wouldn’t have affected the ability to access menstrual products. Even if you take the tax off. So I’m wary of that message, because period poverty is so much more than the products and the accessibility, it’s being able to use water and access on an ongoing basis.
LM: Period products need to be covered by Medicaid, Medicare, and WIC/SNAP. I don’t understand how it’s not. It’s a necessity — it’s something that needs to be given to our community so they can live in dignity. Also any school that has a free lunch program, there should be some type of menstrual product distribution at those sites. I want to start at the lower level for the most vulnerable populations and people who have the highest level of economic hardships.
And also I think as people who do menstrual aid, we need to be better advocates and activists in this space. I still don’t see a lot of talk about this issue. People need to be more open to listening to the community's voices, highlighting and amplifying the authentic experiences of people who are dealing with this every day, and carry those voices further.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Toni Brannagan is a writer and was the former Copy and Content Manager at Thinx.
by Toni Brannagan