[Marxism] Melvin Dwork, Once Cast From Navy for Being Gay, Dies at 94

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
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

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 
the Navy.

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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