In the 3rd edition of The Leaders’ Cafe, we invited our fellow coach Francisco Ramirez and Founder, OkaySo, a non-profit based out of New York that combats shame, stigma and misinformation working on LBTQIA+ inclusion. This conversation on the sidelines of the PRIDE month focused on the importance of LGBTQIA+ inclusion in the workplace.


Francisco highlighted that true participation in the PRIDE movement requires listening to the voices of the community, including their personal struggles and aspirations. They highlighted the struggles queer youth face in gaining acceptance and the need for compassion. They discussed common mistakes organizations make in supporting the LGBTQIA+ community, such as performative support and focusing only on celebration instead of advocacy. Francisco suggested some initiatives organizations can take to promote inclusion, such as policies against discrimination and gender-neutral job postings. They also offered tips for individuals to become allies, including recognizing their own knowledge gaps and using appropriate pronouns. Lastly, Francisco addressed how to respond to homophobic comments, emphasizing the importance of acknowledging one’s own feelings and taking action to challenge harmful behavior.

Chat Brief
A common mistake that organisations make is in thinking this work is just a celebration. Sure, we should celebrate who we are but it’s NOT a celebration when we still don’t have rights.

The last few years have witnessed a growing awareness about the importance of LGBTQIA+ inclusion in key social spaces and most importantly the workspace. The PRIDE month in June at its best becomes an opportunity for organisations to renew their commitment to the issue, announce a slew of benefits and policies to ensure that the LGBTQIA+ community is well represented and respected within workspace.

The advocates and supporters of the PRIDE movement have also felt sceptical about the phenomenon of rainbow marketing where the gravity of the issue is lost amidst buzzy promotions.

We believe that the route to authentic participation in the PRIDE movement lies in listening to the voices from the community – their personal history, their present struggles and triumphs, their dreams for the future and their hopes and expectations from society.

We were privileged to host one such insightful conversation with an inspiring leader from the LGBTQIA+ community who distilled their own personal struggles and emerged as a role model, guide and a leadership coach not just for the community but for all those seeking to reach their potential support in life. In June, Sandra Colhando, our colleague and Co-Founder at TransforMe spoke with Francisco Ramirez, Founder, OkaySo, a non-profit based out of New York that combats shame, stigma and misinformation.

Here are a few excerpts from the conversation.

Choosing identities

Francisci spoke about how struggle for self and social acceptance is a part of every teenager’s journey and they witnessed personally how magnified this struggle for acceptance is as a queer youth as they came out at an age of 15 years. They shared how majority of queer youth have contemplated or attempted suicide signaling the gravity of community’s exclusion and its painful consequences.

Francisco started the conversation with a positive affirmation for every person from the community who experiences the struggle – “We can do this. You can do this.”

A key moment in the conversation was an insightful question by Sandra – “From being told to not come out completely to being someone who understands others completely – how have you bridged that distance?” . As Francisco shared later in the conversation, “Compassion is our biggest superpower”

Common mistakes that organisations make

Francisco spoke about two common mistakes that organisations make vis a vis the LGBTQIA+ community and the PRIDE movement. They pointed out how support has become ‘performative’ , how social media handles of different organisations portray their support, specifically in the month of June, yet do little to help the cause. They spoke about the need to support the movement through the year.

The second point that they shared is, “a common mistake that organisations make is in thinking this work is just a celebration. Sure, we should celebrate who we are but it’s NOT a celebration when we still don’t have rights.

What organisations can do to make LGBTQIA+ inclusion real?

Francisco spoke about a range of initiatives that organisations can take for LGBTQIA+ inclusion at work. Some of the key aspects they spoke about were:

  • Policies to address discrimination, bullying and exclusion
  • Dress code, signages on bathrooms.
  • Recruitment based on skills and knowledge instead of prioritising who you are and identify as.
  • Gender neutral job postings.
  • Challenge gendered language and using appropriate pronouns

What can individuals do to become an Ally?

Francisco offered some very actionable steps through the conversation. One simple but powerful step that they offered for any individual wanting to make a difference is:

`Recognize where you are.’

They spoke about the need to understand where our current gaps lie – example in awareness about the spectrum of identities or in the appropriate language to address them respectfully and then working towards raising awareness and learning to fill those gaps.

They spoke about the need to be honest, to not be scared of making a mistake and how even the acknowledgement of a mistake can signal the sincere intent to participate in the journey of fostering inclusion.

About the role of language and need for using the right pronouns

Francisco made a powerful point here sharing how – “the language of ladies and gentlemen is so ingrained that I have heard many people say what a chore it is to change and relearn and sure it takes thinking and conscious effort but I would say what an opportunity to try to be more inclusive.”

Addressing a question on how to ask people how they like to be identified as, Francisco had a simple suggestion. They shared that we can request other people to share their preferred names and pronouns.

On responding to homophobic comments
When people say these sorts of things, it’s not because they are inherently bad but because they have been socialised to believe whatever they believe. So there is an opportunity for joint gesturing, offering support. You can do this by first recognising your reaction, validating your own feelings, gathering your thoughts to feel strong to take action and finally name what you see.

Francisco highlighted the importance of tuning in to our own reactions and responses, centering and acknowledging how the comment made us feel and then taking the courage to share the feelings it brought forth (“sorry that doesn’t sound right, “umm did I hear that right”). They made an interesting point about how dissent can be shared in varied ways including through vocal fillers.


We are excited about building some of Francisco’s ideas and actionable insights in our own work and in helping our colleagues, partners and clients in their journey of raising awareness, becoming more empathetic and open and driving behavioural change to become the best version of ourselves.

We do hope you find them valuable in your journey towards Inclusion.