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Survey finds some LGBT victims in ND feel unwelcome at crisis centers

FARGO — An online survey found that nearly 30 percent of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people who sought help at a rape and domestic violence crisis center in North Dakota weren't satisfied with the support they received.

The survey was done by an advisory committee made up of LGBT advocates from around the state, a group brought together by the North Dakota Women's Network and the state Department of Health.

Zach Packineau, chair of the advisory committee, said the plan is to use the survey results, which were released this month, to guide centers and other agencies in becoming more inclusive of the LGBT community.

"There's a need for more training and kind of education for service providers, for law enforcement, for people who work in the courts systems," he said.

Liz Anderson, director of the Abuse Resource Network in Lisbon, said advocates at her center could benefit from more training on how to assist LGBT victims. "Everybody needs to know how to respond, and they can't have any preconceived notions," she said.

Packineau said the survey results show some LGBT people who needed services didn't feel welcome at centers in the state. He said such feelings may stem, in part, from the fact that North Dakota law doesn't offer protections against the discrimination of LGBT people.

"We live in a state and in a culture that isn't necessarily friendly and supportive of LGBTQ folks," said Caitlin McDonald, a member of the advisory committee. "Even asking people to take an online survey is a little more difficult, especially when we're talking about such sensitive and intimate topics."

A number of people surveyed reported they did not seek help at a center because they feared being outed — something Packineau said he didn't expect to see in the results.

Anderson acknowledged her center could do a better job publicizing that its services are available to anyone. "We need to let people know we help any type of relationship whether you're straight or not," she said.

Packineau said centers can become more LGBT friendly by using gender-neutral photos and language on their websites and pamphlets.

In a similar vein, the Rape and Abuse Crisis Center in Fargo took the step of removing the gender labels from its restrooms, said executive director Christopher Johnson.

Johnson said his center also placed an LGBT decal at the entrance and has an LGBT magazine among the reading materials in the waiting room. Along with making the physical environment more inviting, he said, the center adjusted its policies and trained staff to better serve LGBT people.

McDonald, who works for the North Dakota Women's Network, said the survey did not collect as many stories directly from LGBT people as the committee had hoped. "We got a lot of people talking about their friends or different experiences," she said, adding that the committee is considering other ways to gather input, such as focus groups.

The survey was done during the summer and fall of 2015, with more than 170 people voluntarily completing it. The state received a $10,000 grant from the Consensus Council, a nonprofit group in Bismarck, to coordinate the advisory committee's work, including the survey.

The advisory committee plans to present the survey results at the state Department of Health's Injury Prevention and Control Conference set for Aug. 10-11 in Bismarck.

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