Leather to Cope: How A Veteran Found Community
Geoff Millard is a New York Army National Guard Corporal (1998–2007) and an active member of the San Francisco leather community. He sat down with KQED to discuss the impact his military service has had on his life and the importance of finding community.
It was while on duty nearly 20 years ago that Millard first visited a leather bar with one of his mentors. This was during the era of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” he recalled about the policy “It forced me to lie to everybody around me, and that was hard.” The leather community allowed him to be his full self. He found support and safety that he hadn’t experience before. Since his service, he’s become much more involved in the leather scene. In fact, Millard is competing for the Daddy’s Barbershop leather title this year. Daddy’s Barbershop is a gay veteran–owned business in the Castro.
According to Millard, the military and military service members have heavily influenced the leather community. Following World War II, “straight veterans started the motorcycle clubs and gay veterans started the leather community.” For him, brown leather signifies its rich history and origin, and he never leaves the house without a piece of brown leather — whether it’s his boots, his bag or both.
“We don’t get rid of leather. We take care of leather, we polish leather, we fix it when it’s broken and we pass it down.” Millard explained that the leather community takes care of their own the same way they take care of their leather. This is especially important for him as he lives with complex mental and physical disabilities as a result of his military service. He described the messages of support and encouragement he received from his friends during times his disabilities kept him home. “The leather community has been really great to me over the years.” The impact that his service has had on him, though, has been greater.
“Iraq is the delineation point of my life,” he noted. “That’s when everything changed.” Millard was an outspoken activist, founder of the Washington, DC chapter of Iraq Veterans Against the War and four-term board chair. He spent the past several years working as a policy advocate and lobbyist for veterans. Even now, in retirement, he spends a lot of time thinking about his military service and hopes, in the future, to work on policies that impact people with disabilities.
While he’s lost a lot of military friends as a result of his activism against the Iraq War, finding a community has helped him cope. “Community is the most important thing we have as human beings.” Geoff Millard has found a community that embraces him, supports him and makes him feel safe in the San Francisco leather scene.
By: Mario Vasquez Zuniga