2011 August 17

Melvin Dwork’s Navy Discharge for Being Gay, Changed to “Honorable” 68 Years Later


Melvin Dwork who had been given an “undesirable” discharge from the Navy in 1943 for being gay, succeeded on this day in having his charge officially changed to “honorable.”

Dwork, then 22-years old, was in the Navy’s officer candidate school in Charleston, South Carolina, in the middle of World War II when he was seized by military police officers and then given a dishonorable discharge for being gay. His companion had been arrested in New Orleans and disclosed Dwork’s name to the authorities. Dwork’s gay friends had warned him to stop corresponding by mail with his companion, but evidently it was too late.

After his discharge, Dwork moved to New York City where he became a successful interior decorator and choreographer. His clients included many noted and wealthy individuals, and his work was featured in House & Garden and Architectural Digest magazines. He was inducted into the Interior Design Hall of Fame in 1993.

Dwork worked on his own to have his discharge reclassified, and was later assisted by the Servicemen’s Legal Defense Network (founded in 1993). According to his New York Times obituary, he became a hero among gay military service members for his persistent efforts. The reclassification was ordered by the Board for Correction of Naval Records.

Dwork died in 2016, and a long obituary was published in the New York Times on June 17, 2016.

Learn more at OutServe: The Servicemen’s Legal Defense Network (SLDN): https://www.outserve-sldn.org/

Read: Randy Shilts, Conduct Unbecoming: Lesbians and Gays in the U.S. Military, Vietnam to the Persian Gulf (1993)

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