What heritage means to me: Jude Woods

A protester talks through a megaphone at a Yorkshire rally
Archival photo of a protester taking part in a Yorkshire rally
Jude Woods, the project coordinator for Queer Stories, a social history project celebrating the stories of LGBT+ people in West Yorkshire, reveals why heritage matters.

What does heritage mean to you?

For me, heritage is things that we can see and touch, like historical buildings and artifacts, but it's also the stories that people tell. It's about our shared past; that road we've all travelled on. I love exploring how a personal story fits into the bigger picture.

What is the the Queer Stories project?

Queer Stories is about collecting and showcasing the stories of LGBT+ people in West Yorkshire. We’re building up a fantastic bank of memories, fashion, art, photography and film to tell personal and often previously untold stories.

“For me, heritage is things that we can see and touch, like historical buildings and artifacts, but it's also the stories that people tell.”

It began with a pilot project which collected 15 oral histories and we created a display - it had a great reaction from LGBT+ and wider communities. Now that we’ve achieved National Lottery funding to expand on this pilot, with the help of our partners at Leeds Museums and Galleries and the West Yorkshire Archive Service, we will preserve this heritage, and create a fantastic community resource which will include a website, film and a free resource pack.

What are the highlights and challenges of undertaking a heritage project?

The whole experience has been really fun and enjoyable. It’s like being an explorer across time.

One of the really interesting parts for me is engaging with the wider public - with LGBT+ people who have a story to tell, and people who are interested in finding out more about queer histories. 

“One of the really interesting parts for me is engaging with the wider public - with LGBT+ people who have a story to tell, and people who are interested in finding out more about queer histories.”

We want to highlight people’s stories from marginalised communities, and so the actual practicalities of finding the sources can be quite tricky. We’re collecting stories from older people who may be isolated, LGBT+ people from BAME communities, from working class backgrounds, rural locations, disabled people and people who perhaps wouldn't even call themselves gay. Really fascinating, interesting stories, which are very relevant now, and I think should be told.

Is there a piece of LGBT+ heritage or history that particularly inspires you?

YES! It’s hard for me to say one thing, because there are lots. Absolutely loads.

I love the story of the 302.0 badge. It was made by a man called Paul who worked at Leeds General Infirmary in the 1970s. His job was to input codes from the international classification of diseases on medical records.

One day he had a case of a man who was recorded to have died from homosexuality. Paul was himself a young gay man, and he was very shocked and upset by this, and also perplexed, because of course, homosexuality doesn’t kill you. He entered the code of homosexuality, 302.0, onto this man’s records, and he was inspired by this experience to campaign for homosexuality to no longer be classified as a disease.

He made badges with the code on it, and sent one to Tom Robinson, frontman of The Tom Robinson Band. Tom Robinson wore the badge, and began to tell the story behind the code at all his concerts. The code even features on the cover for band’s single, Glad to be Gay.

That heritage really means a lot to me, because I loved that song when I was a youngster, it links Leeds to the international struggle for LGBT+ equality and it shows how ordinary people can make a big difference.

What was the last heritage you visited?

The city museum in Leeds has a display at the moment about death and dying. I know it sounds a bit sad, but I thought it was a really great exhibit!

Why do you think heritage is important?

To me, heritage is important because it helps us answer the important questions of how we got to where we are, and exploring that helps us figure out how to make the world a better place in the future. 

Find out more

To learn more about the Queer Stories project, visit the Yorkshire MESMAC website.

To find out about funding your own LGBT+ heritage project, see this helpful forum on our Online Community.

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