Openly gay legion member presses ahead with discrimination complaint

Jason McDonald is seen in this undated handout photo. A Cape Breton man who says he faced discrimination at his local Royal Canadian Legion because he is gay has been told a hearing that was to deal with a complaint he filed has been postponed. Jason McDonald says the hearing scheduled for today at the legion in New Waterford has been delayed until the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission deals with his case. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO, Jason McDonald *MANDATORY CREDIT*

HALIFAX - A Cape Breton man who says he faced discrimination at his local Royal Canadian Legion because he is gay is pressing ahead with a human rights complaint.

Jason McDonald was supposed to take part in a hearing Wednesday at the legion in New Waterford, N.S., but that complaint process has been delayed until the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission deals with his case.

McDonald said he endured months of homophobic slurs and harassment after he joined Branch 15 in September 2018.

He said other members called him "queer," "fag" and "Tinker," which was short for Tinker Bell, the fairy character in the play "Peter Pan."

"But also there was just plain rudeness as well and isolation. But I kept going."

Valerie Mitchell-Veinotte, executive director of the legion's Nova Scotia command, declined to comment when asked about the case.

Earlier this month, the national organization approved a policy that prohibits its branches from affiliating with groups that promote hatred, but the policy also deals with sexual orientation.

The legion's Dominion Command said changes were needed to prevent a repeat of an incident where the anti-immigration group Soldiers of Odin held an Easter dinner at a legion in Grande Prairie, Alta.

The new policy states no branch may affiliate with groups that promote hatred or violence due to ethnicity, religion, gender and sexual orientation.

McDonald said he felt compelled to file complaints last month after an ugly argument with a legion member that left him feeling threatened.

"He was shouting things at me, wanting me barred and kicked out," said McDonald, who works as an autism interventionist with the Nova Scotia Health Authority.

"I was afraid, but I stood my ground."

Though he was never a member of the military, McDonald says he joined the legion because both of his grandfathers fought in the Second World War. As well, his brother served in the navy during the Gulf War, and his uncle served in Bosnia, the Gulf War and in Afghanistan.

As the club's ways and means chairman, McDonald said he worked hard to enliven a local organization that was doing little more than just existing.

He organized dances, breakfasts, seniors meals, bingo games and workshops for youth and adults. The events helped generate more than $4,000 per month in profit, he said.

But some members made it clear they didn't want his help.

"There was no desire for change and they certainly did not want their legion to become successful with a gay man at the front making money," he said.

"Homophobia still exists more than the heterosexual public believes. There have been more gains, but there is still a lot of work to be done, even in 2019."

The branch was closed last month after its entire executive committee resigned, citing infighting and disrespect among the membership.

In a letter dated May 20, branch president George McLellan told the zone commander the branch was beset by bickering, intransigence and "downright discrimination."

"The legion that I have been a member of for the past 10 years shows no resemblance of a veterans' organization," McLellan said in the letter, which also cites the successful events organized by McDonald.

"Every turn we take, someone is trying to sabotage these events."

McDonald said his ongoing struggle with the legion has forced him to take time off work.

"This has been an overwhelming time and has affected my life in many ways, from my mental health, eating and sleeping patterns and social life."

He said he's been often overwhelmed by panic, anxiety and fear, but he insisted he is determined to help others who are facing similar challenges.

"I am trying to turn all this negative experience into something that will give others a voice — those that feel they are too afraid to stand up."

More recently, he said he has received support from his work colleagues and from people across the country — as well as hurtful comments.

"But that just tells me further that there is more work to be done for the LGBT community," he said.

McDonald said he is now working on a formal complaint that he intends to submit to the provincial human rights commission.

The Canadian Press. All rights reserved.

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