Paul Furness, Jude Woods and Marek Romaniszyn
In 1978, I was working as a Medical Records Clerk at Leeds General Infirmary. Part of my job was to compile information on patients who had died or been discharged. I did this by reading through a patient’s notes – everything was on paper back then! – and once I found the medical diagnosis, I had to tick a series of boxes on a form which ‘went to Harrogate’.
In order to enter the diagnosis, I had to convert it into a code which I would find in two massive books called The International Classification of Diseases which was issued by the World Health Organisation.
One day I was going through a pile of notes when I became engrossed in those of a man in his late 20s who had died from a series of psychosomatic illnesses. The doctors had suggested to the patient that he might be gay but he wasn’t having any of it, and continued to attract the illnesses which eventually took his life. His cause of death was diagnosed as “homosexuality”. When I looked it up in the books, there it was – 302.0.
I was a 20-year-old kid from Seacroft who had just come out – in the Fforde Green pub of all places! – and I couldn’t believe that being gay was considered a medical illness. I was also involved in Rock Against Racism at this time, through which I became friends with the singer Tom Robinson.
I had access to an odd little machine, a bit like one of those old credit card machines, which made name badges for NHS staff . It was a plastic badge with room for an embossed strip of plastic with your name on it, so I made two of these which said “302.0”. I kept one and the other I gave to Tom.
Tom was incensed by what I told him. He wore the badge on stage, signed his autographs as 302.0 and, when he introduced the song “Glad to be Gay“, he always told his audience that it was about people medically classified as 302.0 and pointed at the badge he was wearing. This must have been about the start of 1978, because when his “Rising Free” EP came out later that year, it had “Glad to be Gay” on it and, around the edges of the record sleeve, it had the Gay Switchboard phone number – and 302.0.
Sometime later, the Tom Robinson Band were playing a gig in Chicago when a fan threw six or seven t-shirts on the stage which had 302.0 in big numbers across the front. He then sent me a postcard to my home in Seacroft telling me about this and saying “what in the world have you started, Paul?”
Then I got on with my life and forgot all about it. I always kept the badge, though, and I always remember the story of the man who died from “homosexuality”. Years later I discovered that a big campaign was waged against it internationally and in 1990 the World Health Organisation eventually removed being gay from its International Classification of Diseases. Thanks to this campaign, the “illness” and the code 302.0 no longer exists and this story has a link to Leeds!
Many people connected with Paul’s story, as I did particularly strongly, when we included his 302.0 badge in our display at Leeds City Museum during the Leeds Queer Stories project (2015/16).
I think it’s because it has so many interesting interwoven threads: arts and music, culturally driven resistance, challenging false pathologies and DIY badges.
I am a similar age to Paul and the Tom Robinson Band’s song and punk culture meant so much to us as young LGBT people growing up in the 1970s and 80s. As well as the Tom Robinson Band the music of Stiff Little Fingers, The Slits, The Raincoats, The Clash, The Au Pairs and Crass was a rallying call for young people angry about the flawed society we encountered. Those times were bleak and hard especially for young people starting out with sparse prospects – punk protest music was our response.
The other aspect of this story which I connect to strongly is the resistance to the pathologising of same-sex desire. Being a seasoned disability activist and lifelong ‘Spasticus’ (Ian Dury), de-pathologising the world is on my bucket list. So, thanks to both Paul and Tom for helping to tick one of the targets off the list.
The final pleasing thread of the story is that I grew up in a thoroughly labelled household, so I must pay homage to my Mum who also had a Dymo Label Maker.
We’ll be hearing more stories like this next year as the new West Yorkshire Queer Stories project unfolds. Searching for more untold stories and celebrating the achievements of LGBTQ+ people from marginalised communities will be key goals of the project.
Read more about Pauls’ story and the links to the Rock Against Racism movement in Walls Come Tumbling Down, The Music and Politics of Rock Against Racism, 2 Tone and Red Wedge by Daniel Rachel.
Look for Paul’s badge in the display ‘Leeds Music Sound Bites’ at Leeds City Museum (12/8/17—1/4/18) and other Queer Stories materials in the display ’Protest’ at Abbey House Museum (Sept 2017—Feb 2018).
Words and Photographs: Paul Furness, Jude Woods and Marek Romaniszyn (2017)
Jude Woods combines visual arts and curatorial practice with a long-term focus on intersectionality and activism, sustaining a portfolio of community development posts and freelance projects spanning community arts, writing, research, training and consultation. They hold an MA in Fine Art (Contemporary Practice) from Leeds Beckett University, contributed an illustrated short story to The Alphabet Club Anthology Book curated by Jamie Fletcher (2016) and contributed to Reflections on Female and Trans* Masculinities and Other Queer Crossings, co-edited with Nina Kane (2017).