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North Dakota aging plan: Making older LGBTQ residents feel included

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Mike Moen

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(Prairie News Service) This week, older North Dakotans had a chance to learn about housing discrimination as part of a long-term aging plan for the state.

Thursday, North Dakota's Adult and Aging Services Division featured a housing-rights expert in an educational session tied to the state's Multigenerational Plan for Aging. It's described as a 10-year document still being crafted to bring together state government, partner groups and citizens in helping residents prepare for their advanced years. 

Cindy Roholt, founding member of Red River Rainbow Seniors, noted that older LGBTQ residents tend to live with extra anxiety.

"The biggest thing is a sense of fear that folks have about finding adequate care and finding folks that will treat them with respect and dignity," she said. 

Roholt said this can include seeking out primary-care providers and mental-health services. Another important issue for this population is having their power-of-attorney situation settled. 

State leaders putting together the plan are still taking comments through an online survey. Meanwhile, Thursday's session begins at noon and can be accessed online or by calling in. Details are on the aging plan website.

Michelle Gayette, Adult and Aging Services assistant director, said the planning doesn't have to come into play just before individuals approach their golden years. 

"How do you go about planning for your future with legal documents, financial and health-care planning?" Gayette asked. "And what should those documents say -- so that, when or if you ever lose your voice, your voice is still heard because you have written your wishes down?" 

She added the state hopes to have more public meetings with advocacy groups to hear concerns from this population. 

At the local level, civic leaders in Fargo say they hope to be more responsive to this issue. 

Sekou Sirleaf, a member of the Fargo Human Rights Commission, said it comes under the backdrop of certain state policies deemed hostile towards the LGBTQ community.

"They are taxpayers too, they are citizens," Sirleaf said. "So, whatever programs that any other person enjoys, they should be a part of it."