In 2018, as a newly minted executive director, Aidan Johnson’s first task was to facilitate the merger of two established legal clinics into one, larger, entity that would respond to the legal needs of poverty-affected Ontarians in the Niagara region. Johnson didn’t know it at the time, but the formal merger would happen only one year before COVID-19 – and the onset of a whole new set of challenges, tied to the pandemic.
“We kept serving many clients in person because we had to. Most clients don’t have reliable access to technology -- many don’t have access to telephones. Early on in the pandemic, we set up dedicated technology rooms at our office-sites for clients who need access to computers for hearings. We still have those tech rooms. It is much better for a client to attend an online hearing from a room at our clinic, than from the parking lot of a Tim Horton’s that happens to have free Wifi.”
The COVID-19 pandemic presented professional challenges but was also Aidan’s “catalyst” for coming out as non-binary. “A close friend died of COVID, and it made me think of what I need to do before I die. On that list was coming out as genderqueer, so I did. It has not been an easy road, but it has been a richly rewarding one.”
Aidan came out as gay in 1996 as a grade 11 student in Hamilton. “Physical violence and verbal harassment at school were constant for me. I was pushed down stairwells and had urine poured on my head at school by anti-queer bullies. I knew then that there had to be a more equitable way for society to be, for everyone.”