[Marxism] Melvin Dwork, Once Cast From Navy for Being Gay, Dies at 94
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Fri Jun 17 07:15:46 MDT 2016
NY Times, June 17 2016
Melvin Dwork, Once Cast From Navy for Being Gay, Dies at 94
By ROBERT D. McFADDEN
When the M.P.s came for him in 1944, Melvin Dwork was in class, a
22-year-old gay Navy enlisted man in officer candidate school in
Charleston, S.C. His companion, under arrest in New Orleans, had given
him away. Jailed, found “deviant” by psychiatrists, he was discharged in
World War II as “undesirable.”
The word stuck in his craw after the war, an insult that never went
away. As years passed, Mr. Dwork became a successful interior designer
in New York City, and he and a prominent choreographer were companions
for many years. He eventually forgave the man who betrayed him, but not
In 2011, after years of trying to remove the blot on his record, Mr.
Dwork, supported by advocates for gay and lesbian military personnel and
veterans, won his point. The Navy officially changed his discharge to
“It meant an awful lot to me because I know I never did anything
disgraceful or dishonest,” Mr. Dwork said in a 2014 interview for this
obituary, in which he spoke of painful military policies and glacially
slow changes toward gay and lesbian service members.
Mr. Dwork, who became a hero to gay people for his persistence in
fighting the dishonorable discharge, died on Tuesday in Manhattan, Alan
Salz, the executor of his estate, said. He was 94.
Mr. Dwork was believed to be the first veteran of World War II to have
an “undesirable” discharge for being gay expunged, although his case may
have opened the floodgates for appeals in hundreds of similar cases. His
was resolved shortly before the military ended its 18-year-old “don’t
ask, don’t tell” policy, which barred openly gay people from service but
prohibited discrimination against those not open about their sexuality.
While gay men and lesbians were explicitly barred by the military during
World War II, many were quietly admitted to serve, especially in the
war’s early stages to meet enlistment quotas, with a tacit understanding
that they would be discreet. But later in the war purges rose, and Mr.
Dwork and his companion were caught in them.
Both men were inducted in 1942 and, in 1943, they joined the Navy
hospital corps, which was known to be more tolerant of gays. Mr. Dwork
worked at the Naval Hospital at Parris Island, S.C. His partner, whom
Mr. Dwork would never publicly identify, went to New Orleans. They
exchanged love letters and phone calls, and once had a discreet rendezvous.
With excellent work ratings, Mr. Dwork applied for officer candidate
school and, in 1944, was accepted for classes at the Medical University
of South Carolina in Charleston. Gay friends warned him and his
companion to forgo exchanging letters because of the dangers of exposure
in campaigns against gays.
“We stopped writing, but it was too late,” Mr. Dwork said. At the time
of his arrest, he believed that intercepted letters had given them away.
He said it was not until many years later that he learned that his
partner had been arrested, and had identified Mr. Dwork under the
pressure of prolonged interrogations.
“I had not taken many classes when the military police came for me,” Mr.
Dwork recalled. “They took me to the brig originally, then to the
psychiatric brig. They kept me there for weeks.
“It was not pleasant, I can tell you that. The doctors were freakish.
The psychiatrists were so stupid and asked such stupid questions. It was
disgusting. They had no feeling for who I was and why I was there.”
After his discharge, Mr. Dwork returned to New York. He studied at the
Parsons School of Design, worked for antiques dealers and from 1956 to
1959 was a partner in Altman-Dwork, a decorating and antiques concern.
He assisted the designer Yale R. Burge in the 1960s and was a design
partner of James Maguire in the early 1970s. He then worked
independently for many clients, including the RCA chairman Robert W.
Sarnoff and the film director Milos Forman.
His work was featured in The New York Times, House & Garden, Town &
Country and Architectural Digest. In 1993, he was inducted into the
Interior Design Hall of Fame.
Mr. Dwork said that he and John Butler, a choreographer and former
dancer with the Martha Graham Dance Company, were companions and friends
from 1961 until Mr. Butler’s death in 1993.
After failing on his own to overturn the Navy’s “undesirable” discharge,
Mr. Dwork got help from the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network,
founded in 1993 to fight discrimination against gay and lesbian military
personnel affected by the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. It interceded
on his behalf.
On Aug. 17, 2011, the Board for Correction of Naval Records in
Arlington, Va., changed Mr. Dwork’s discharge to honorable. A record of
the proceedings, obtained by The Associated Press, said the Navy had
undergone a “radical departure” from its wartime ban on gays. It noted
Mr. Dwork’s “exemplary period of active duty” and said it was acting “in
the interests of justice.”
Melvin Dwork was born in Kansas City, Mo., on Feb. 9, 1922, one of four
children of Henry Dwork and the former Esther Brown. He graduated from
Southeast High School in 1939 and attended the Kansas City Art Institute
for two years.
After moving to New York, he attended the Parsons School in 1941 and
1942. On a summer break, he returned to Kansas City and met his wartime
partner. Their plans for a life together were obliterated by the war and
their exposure in the crackdown on gay servicemen.
Mr. Dwork, who lived in Manhattan, is survived by a brother, Irvin.
A documentary on his case, “The Undesirable,” was made by Michael
Jacoby. It has not been released.
The ruling on Mr. Dwork’s discharge entitled him to veterans benefits,
including a military burial. But he said he probably would forgo that honor.
Years after Mr. Butler’s death, Mr. Dwork and his wartime partner met to
catch up on the passage of six decades. The partner had married and had
children, but had never told his family about Mr. Dwork.
“He had always denied his sexuality,” Mr. Dwork said. “He didn’t want to
be exposed. After all those years in denial, and your own family doesn’t
know who you are? I said: ‘Let them know. They’ll love you anyway.’ But
he couldn’t do it. I forgave him, but we don’t speak any longer.”
Daniel E. Slotnik contributed reporting.
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