Grand Marshal, Great Pride

How many moments in your life make you stop and think about who you are and how you became that person? Moments that make you truly reflect on your life and what you've experienced. Maybe for some they happen more frequently, but for most, I believe these moments are few and far between. They are different for each of us. They can either be expected or unexpected. They can happen at the start of something new, at the end of a chapter or during a major milestone. They can even happen as the result of something wonderful or something tragic. For me, the honor of being selected as the Grand Marshal of NYC Pride, along with Cyndi Lauper and the first same-sex couple to be married in New York, Phyllis Siege and Connie Kopelov, is one of those moments.

This entire week has been a very moving one for me, full of reflection on my own life and what it's meant to be a gay man. I realize now more than ever that I am incredibly fortunate. I am able to be myself every day; in my work and in my daily life without filtering or letting outside judgments get in the way. This is evident in every area of my life -- my personal interests, my career and my relationships with my family and friends.

Let's start with interests. I enjoy many things. I love cars, motorcycles, art, longboarding, archery, my dog Poppy, Twitter (follow me at @KiehlsPrez as I have become a resource for many through social media), the New York Giants, fashion and Kiehl's (obviously!). My interests are not defined by a stereotype, gay or straight. I like what I like and am true to myself.

As for my professional life, I am beyond lucky. I've worked for three great companies -- Chanel Inc., and then the Estee Lauder Companies for Bobbi Brown. Now, through a lot of hard work and an ambition to always be the best that I can be -- in my own skin -- I'm the president of a company that supports diversity and inclusion and has a mission that is aligned with my own passion of giving back to the community. Although I have been a Kiehl's user for over 20 years, this company actually found me. When I got the call, I remember walking down the street in NY -- where I had just moved from California and being absolutely ecstatic and grateful about the prospect of landing my dream job. This company and my own values fit so well together. One of Kiehl's founding family members, Aaron Morse, explained that the Mission of Kiehl's is "to improve in some way the quality of the community in which we are committed." In order to stay true to Mr. Morse's vision, we focus our efforts on our three charitable pillars -- HIV/AIDS research and awareness, environmental issues and children's well-being -- and, we have a long history of supporting Pride. This year actually marks our tenth anniversary of marching in the NYC Pride Parade. It's important for me and for Kiehl's to participate because it shows our support of diversity. It also gives our employees the opportunity to celebrate and show their own support of diversity in a very personal but united, hands-on way.

Lastly, but perhaps most significantly, I am fortunate to have a wonderful network of people in my life -- my amazing family and friends. I am the son of two very supportive parents who have always accepted me for being me, and have always encouraged me in every endeavor in my life. Their unwavering love and support gives me strength and helps me remember that it's okay to be yourself. And it's okay to be gay.

I know that some people are not as lucky. They have reasons that have kept them from coming out, keeping them from being able to be themselves on every level in every aspect of their life, as I am able to. That's why NYC Pride is so important. It's why all pride parades worldwide are important. These events celebrate diversity. They are not just for the LGBTQ community, but rather for everyone that supports us; and diversity in general. Pride shows people that you are not alone, that there are millions of people just like you, it's okay to be who you are and be proud of it.

This year, Pride is even more special for me. My week of reflection also helped me realize that, as Grand Marshal, I hope that people, young and old, particularly those who haven't come out yet, see me and are encouraged to be themselves and embrace it. I am proof that once you do that, you can have every opportunity in life to not be afraid to be yourself.

Happy Pride!

Chris Salgardo received the distinguished honor of being named the Grand Marshal for New York's Pride Parade, held on June 24, 2012.