LGBTQ youth who are making a difference: Ian Siljestrom

By : Jeremy Williams
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27 | Gay | He/Him/His

Ian has made his way around Florida. Born in Cocoa Beach, he left for the University of Florida in Gainesville and then settled in Jacksonville where he was a science and health teacher for fifth graders.

“So I didn’t ever want to [work in the LGBTQ community]. It wasn’t ever of interest to me. I was all science everything. I studied sustainability in college. I intended to be an elementary school teacher to get my kid excited about science. And that’s what I did and that’s everything that drove me,” Ian says.

While Ian came out in college, he started living back in the closet when he became a teacher for fear that it would impact his career. That all changed when he was outed by another teacher in his second year of teaching. While he still maintained that he was not gay for several months, Ian started to become jaded about his career choice and finally opened up to his principal.

“I went to him and said ‘Here’s my keys. I’m walking out today or you’re going to support me because I can’t do this anymore,'” Ian recalls. “He told me ‘No, we have your back. We know you’re here to do what’s right for the kids so absolutely you have a place at our school and we love you.’”

That was the catalyst that got Ian thinking that he needed to do more to support the LGBTQ community and empower everyone to be themselves.

“It started as an internship at the district office while I was still teaching. Through that opportunity, I found this role with Equality Florida and decided to take a jump,” Ian says.

Ian’s new direction with Equality Florida brought him to Central Florida where he is now the organization’s Safe and Healthy Schools Associate Director.

“I support 20 school districts from Manatee County northeast to Duval County,” he says. “When I took the job it was specifically the tri-county area—Orange, Osceola, Seminole. It then expanded to 10 districts and now it’s expanded to 20 districts. So it’s just taking on more districts to help them.”

Through his position at Equality Florida, Ian has built relationships with school districts across Central Florida to create a culture of inclusion, trained over 14,000 educators on Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) and is spearheading the Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) committee at Zebra Coalition.

With all of the work he is doing for the community, Ian says his main goal at Equality Florida hasn’t changed from the one that made him want to be a teacher.

“I want to do right by our kids,” he says. “So even when we talk about the work, I never come from just the lens of what we’re doing for LGBTQ students. It is really how do we shift our public schools to truly make sure that they understand that any child that walks in their school building, they’re going to be affirmed and are going to be supported.”

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