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Why Policy Is the Lifeblood of Period Activism

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Source: The Period Purse

Poverty prevents 25 million women in the U.S. from having consistent access to period products.

Yet menstruation is in no way optional for women and certain non-binary and transgender individuals.

Menstrual products are therefore not a luxury but a necessity. In response, drives for homeless shelters often ask for donations of pads and tampons to give women safe, dignified periods. There has also been a rise in nonprofit organizations dedicated to providing people with access to period products.

Though these philanthropic efforts can serve entire communities, they fall short of solving the broader systemic issue of inaccessibility.

Consequently, menstrual activism has largely shifted towards addressing these inequities through the form of policy changes.

The most salient fight now in America under the guise of policy is the removal of sales tax on pads and tampons. While several states have successfully passed legislation to abolish the tax, 36 states still tax menstrual products.

In America, this campaign was spearheaded by Jennifer Weiss-Wolf. In 2015, she encountered a food pantry asking for donations of menstrual products.

As a lawyer with a background in advocacy, she was shocked by this reality that she hadn’t considered before. Inspired by the drive and the lack of discourse on poverty and menstrual health in America, she began writing essays.

Eventually, she coined the term menstrual equity, which refers to the availability of menstrual products for everyone who needs them. The term has caught on among period activists to represent a human rights movement, but Weiss-Wolf cautions against this definition.

“The idea of menstrual equity narrowly was always intended to be a policy frame and a way to bring policy makers and legislators on board,” Weiss-Wolf said.

“It was very explicit about not using language related to rights or even health, which evokes different responses in legislators.” It’s a careful logic that Weiss-Wolf applies in her appeals for policy changes, as to give it the best chance to pass.

Pushing the tampon tax legislation in America is a gateway to begin considering menstruation within policy. “If we could get legislators talking about it and willing to introduce it, it would really open up the door to talk about the economics of menstruation,” she said.

Laws, as a reflection of society, must be changed to adequately capture the economics of being a woman.

“When you codify something into law, by definition, you’re normalizing it and creating accessibility for everybody.

It’s the answer to the entire structural revolution that we need to have,” she said.

Similar to Weiss-Wolf, activists are working within the framework of local policy much more often. Amanda Laird, host of the podcast The Heavy Flow, recounted her experience in talking to Toronto city councilors.

Along with a friend who runs The Period Purse, an organization that donates menstrual products directly to shelters and the homeless in Ontario, she talked to city councilor Kristyn Wong-Tam. “She is an incredible, progressive force of nature,” Laird said of Wong-Tam.

As a result of their conversation, Wong-Tam drafted a proclamation for Menstrual Hygiene Day in the city of Toronto. In addition, Wong-Tam, taking after New York City’s measures to provide free products in schools, jails, prisons and homeless shelters, brought a motion to city council to earmark 2 million dollars in the 2019 budget for menstrual supplies for marginalized individuals.

If passed, free menstrual products would be provided to shelters, drop-in centers, and wherever these people can access them. As of June 28, 2018, Wong-Tam’s motion passed 30-1.

It’s incredible to witness progress towards menstrual equity through policy at the hands of legislators influenced by activism. Repealing the tampon tax is one step, and providing free products for those in need is the next.

As Weiss-Wolf said, “It is beholden on us to look at every single law and ask if this considers the reality of people who menstruate. And if it doesn’t, how could it do better?”

By: Janice Lee

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Young Man with Autism Opens his Own Coffee Shop After Being Denied Employment

Sydney Murphy

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Michael Coyne, despite being on the autism spectrum, shows everybody should have equal opportunity by opening his own coffee shop and has brought people together through community engagement.
Source: Red White & Brew Coffeehouse | Facebook

Michael Coyne, a Special Olympics Athlete, is living with Autism, bipolar disorder, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

He is already living a challenging life, and when faced with each challenge, he has used his passion and positive attitude to push him forward.

Though he was determined to get a job as he turned the age of 21, Coyne was met with many denials. He soon used the constant rejection as motivation to make an opportunity for himself no matter what negativity he was faced with.  

“After I turned 21, I applied to multiple places. None of them would hire me,” said Coyne.

Post-graduation, Coyne and Sheila worked together in starting up a privately owned coffee shop. The shop was friendly and welcoming to all people, no matter their ability. 

With the inclusive coffee shop, Coyne proved that discrimination was unacceptable and is continuing to respectfully fight the unfair business world. The coffee shop serves locally-roasted coffee and pastries. 

The name of the coffee shop is Red, White, & Brew. Nearby businesses are partnering with the coffee shop because of the unbelievable acceptance the shop shows for all people. 

“It’s just a beacon of hope for people with disabilities,” said Coyne. 

A nearby craft store called, Budding Violet, sells homemade products made by artists with disabilities and is also advocating for the impact these welcoming businesses are having on the community.

A few of the artists are Coyne’s peers and play an essential role in his motivation and successful community engagement. 

“We’ve had parents come in with tears in their eyes with the hope that their young children will eventually be accepted into the community,” said Sheila.

Coyne will continue to grow his business and is hoping to someday hire people with and without disabilities to bring all walks of life together in one business to work together.

He hopes to open the doors for other disabled individuals who may also be struggling to find employment.  

“What I liked about the coffee shop idea is the community. We learn on both sides. We teach people, ‘Yeah, he has a disability, but look what he’s doing. And he’s out in the community getting his social skills,” said Shiela. 

Shiela is very proud of Coyne as he takes steps in creating a better world for himself and his peers. The Red, White, & Brew Coffeehouse has received tons of support through it’s Facebook page and hopes to use social media as a tool to spread awareness of Coyne’s inspiring achievements.

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A Look at the Most Famous Queer Art Form and What it Means to a Small Town Drag Queen

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Source: Jhderojas| Flickr

A Brief History of Drag:

LGBTQ+ History Month is a pivotal moment to look back on one of the most prominent forms of queer art and expression – drag queen history.

Both drag queens and kings have had their narratives woven into the grander history of the LGBTQ community. However, its beginnings were not what you may expect.

Theatrical Beginnings

Drag first found its home in the theatre. Pre-Shakespearean era theatre used men in drag for the female acting parts. This was surprisingly due to religious reasons. It was seen as a religious right that only men were allowed to act in plays. This is quite ironic given the context drag is often seen in now.

However, it was during Shakespearean era theatre, where only men were allowed on stage, that the term “drag” is believed to have come from. This is rumored to be because the male actors would always comment on how their dresses would drag across the stage.

An Intimate Vaudeville Setting

Until the Vaudeville era, drag was strictly apart of group performances such as plays. Once Vaudeville performance gained popularity, drag became a much more intimate art form.

Men found themselves impersonating women alone on stage and in a way that allowed them to mix comedy, music, and dance.

It was during this time that we saw one of the first famous drag queens come to light – Julian Eltinge.

Eltinge found popularity in Vaudeville that would earn him success that surpassed the giants of this era, such as Charlie Chaplin. Eltinge and the drag queens of his time undoubtedly prove that drag has been visibly woven into queer culture for some time now.

Despite the success seen during this time, prohibition brought a challenge for drag queens of the time. It was hard to find venues that really showcased the atmosphere they wanted, so many gay men and drag queens alike used speakeasies to entertain and be entertained.

The Broader Culture

Naturally, even if drag queens were flourishing in the underground queer community, the majority of society was not welcoming.

During prohibition, queer culture was a crime and police often cracked down on gay speakeasies and underground bars.

It was bad enough that serving alcohol was illegal, but the fact that queer folk couldn’t dance together legally didn’t help the situation. Years passed, and while alcohol became legal once again, being queer in any sense was still very much crime.

The community was not without allies, even back then. The New York Mafia often gave drag queens and the queer community as a whole various outlets to express themselves.

Specifically, the Genovese played a large part in what would, unknowingly at the time, become a huge part of the community’s history.

Stonewall and the New York Scene

The Genovese family purchased the Stonewall in 1966. This spot would become a hub for queer culture in New York City. This would also be home to the 1969 Stonewall riots and the beginning of the gay rights movement.

At the forefront of this movement was transgender women and drag queens. This is often an overlooked piece of history, and arguably one of the most important things to remember.

One drag queen who found herself front and center during this movement was Flawless Sabrina. She organized drag queen pageants that presented drag beauty in the same respect as traditional pageants presented cisgender female beauty.

Flawless Sabrina, like many of those who took part in this movement, was arrested several times over and was also brave enough to dress in drag and appear in public and on talk shows.

Over in Harlem and Washington Heights during the early 1970s, ballroom culture was blooming. Started specifically by queer people of color, the drag scene was beginning to adapt to a new form of expression.

Drag “balls” were where “houses” or groups of queer folk would compete to be the best at their art form. A mix of fashion, dancing, and cutting edge gender expression found itself on the floor of every ball.

Becoming Mainstream

Shortly after the ballroom culture found its way into the queer culture, drag culture began to weave itself into the broader culture of the United States. Drag and gender-bending performances exploded—from the likes of Tim Curry in Rocky Horror Picture Show, to the fashion of David Bowie and Boy George, and even beyond.

It’s important to note that these white men could’ve only used this for their art forms because of the oppressed queer people that came before them, and notably queer people of color.

With the popularization of drag, the world became ready for the now ultra-famous RuPaul Charles. Charles found fame beginning in the 1990s amidst the New York City club scene. He skyrocketed into stardom with his 1993 hit song “Supermodel (You Better Work)”.

He soon became the first drag queen to become a spokesperson for a major cosmetics company, get their own talk show, and even a morning radio show.

Since his early days of fame, Charles has launched his drag competition series, Rupaul’s Drag Race, which is also premiering in Canada and the United Kingdom now. The show, and many of the queens who have been a part of the show, have become worldwide phenomenons.

RuPaul and drag culture are prime examples that marginalized communities can be uplifted with the right media presence.

The Significance of Drag History to a Small Town Drag Queen

With a clear past of ups and downs, drag is undeniably an important art form in the queer community. This brings us to today, to State College: the small town surrounding the famous Penn State University. Named one of the most LGBTQ friendly universities in the country, Penn State has a small yet thriving drag community. A part of this community is Marceline.

Marceline, aka Marco Planchart, is a transgender man who is just starting out in the drag scene at Penn State.

“I got into drag because I had friends that encouraged me to do it,” said Planchart.

With experience in cosplay, Planchart found the transition to drag very easy. This, paired with years of dance experience, he found himself combining the two and finding himself comfortably transitioning into the drag scene.

Beyond being a drag queen and a member of the queer community, Planchart is also a student intern at the Center for Sexual and Gender Diversity at Penn State, where he aids the office in educated students on all things related to the LGBTQ Community.

During this LGBTQ History Month, Planchart made it very clear that his identity as a drag queen is significant to the rich history queer folk.

“I think it’s very important to recognize drag queens and kings during LGBTQ+ history month because of how prevalent they were in queer history.

Many queens and kings were a part of the queer community already and saw it as a way to have an amazing experience for themselves.

Plus, just looking back on major moments in queer history like Stonewall, they were on the front lines as much as any identity. I would talk to Freddy or some people from Opulence to talk about how important they are, and how important especially the [people of color] drag queens and kings were in shaping a lot of queer cultures today.”

By: Madison Star

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Jonathan Van Ness Speaks Out about Living with HIV, Highlights the Importance of Getting Tested

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Source: IG: jvn

            Reality TV star, queer rights advocate, and hair guru, Jonathan Van Ness, has come out recently, but most certainly not out of the closet.

In recent weeks, Jonathan Van Ness, made famous by the Netflix hit series “Queer Eye”, has released several statements surrounding their life with HIV, being an addict, and being sexually abused.

Ness’ decision to come out revolves around the release of their book “Over the Top”. Their book, which came out just last week, recounts several stories surrounding these aspects of their life.

“It’s hard for me to be as open as I want to be when there are certain things I haven’t shared publicly,” Van Ness stated in an interview.

            The interview, as well as the novel, shows a much more serious side of Van Ness that fans and media are not used to seeing. They discuss several traumatic experiences, such as being abused in Church as a child, deep-rooted self-esteem issues, drug use that would become an addiction, to now living with HIV.

             That the self-described “the effervescent, gregarious majestic center-part-blow-dry cotton-candy figure-skating queen” would share such personal news came as a shock to everyone. In an interview with CNN, Van Ness explains why they chose to do so before the book’s release.

            “Part of it is that I wanted to heal. And the other part of it is that, you know, living publicly and experiencing the success of ‘Queer Eye’ and experiencing this platform,” said Van Ness.

“We don’t grow when we are comfortable and I have had a lot of time to grow comfortable with my HIV status. I’ve had a long time to process and heal from the abuse that I endured in my life and I am ready to share it now.”

            Not long after this interview, Van Ness teamed up with Planned Parenthood to create a video on the importance of getting tested for STIs, and why protecting access to STI testing under Title X is vital. This partnership was inspired by the fact that Van Ness got their diagnosis at a Planned Parenthood.

            While Van Ness does have the type of fame that could draw attention to an issue such as this, many stereotypes and false claims about HIV out there do occur. Van Ness defies one of the most important ones to debunk: you can’t live a happy life with HIV.

            There is no denying that everyone’s favorite hair guru has been through a hard life, he is lively and glowing. HIV is no longer the death sentence like it was in the 80s.

There are medications and treatments that can increase the lifespan and quality of life for somebody with an HIV diagnosis. You can very much keep up your everyday life with some minor adjustments.

There is a lot of misunderstandings about how HIV and AIDS get transmitted from person to person. You can’t pass either through kissing, hugging, sharing food, insect bites, toilet seats, sneezing and/or coughing, or sweating.

You can only get it from passing bodily fluids such as blood, semen, vaginal fluid, anal mucous, and breastmilk from person to another. Ways these bodily fluids can be passed from one person to another is through unprotected sex, through childbirth and breastfeeding (from mother to child, injecting drugs with needles that have the blood of a person with HIV or AIDS on it, and blood donations that are infected.

            The final misconception is the most important piece of information, not only to Van Ness’ story but to anyone living with HIV or AIDS. The two are different. People with HIV are not living with AIDS, though it could one day grow to that. There are three stages of HIV: Acute HIV infection, chronic HIV infection, and AIDS.

            Acute HIV infection has several symptoms that can be attributed to many things. These symptoms include headache, fatigue, aching muscles, sore throat, and a red rash that doesn’t itch.

If you have symptoms like these, it’s possible that you’ve been exposed to somebody with HIV in the past six weeks. If you have any of these symptoms, you may need to go to a doctor and get tested.

            Chronic HIV infection brings on a different experience. Once you enter this stage, this flu-like symptoms of acute HIV infection leave, and you will go through an asymptomatic stage that can last up to ten years.

It is pivotal in this stage to start taking medication, and as early on as possible. Without treatment, you become vulnerable to other infections.

AIDS is the final stage. Symptoms at this stage, if not medicated, and without a proactive lifestyle change in a previous stage, can include: swollen lymph nodes, a fever that lasts more than ten days, purple spots that don’t go away, and unexplained weight loss.

Without medication, a person at this stage can only live up to three years. The most important thing to remember about this stage is that with treatment you can live a long and happy life.

By: Madison Danielle Starr

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