Saturday, September 17, 2011

Melvin Dwork is a Very Desirable Man

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Don't Ask Don't Tell is within a hair's breadth of being flushed down the toilet of bad compromises. I can almost hear the gurgling water as I type this. Apparently, there are still some who walk among us, such as Senator John McCain of Arizona, who believe that an insufficient number of careers, lives and families have thus far been ruined or damaged for a policy that makes no sense. More they rumble, throw more bodies on the fire. Our military men and women of the heterosexual persuasion must be spared the corrosive gaze of their gay brothers and sisters in the mess hall, on the battlefield and of course in the shower. But this is well worn ground. The arguments, the counter arguments, the statistics, the evidence, both domestic and foreign, have been sliced and diced time and again.

On a more personal level, a recent story has surfaced that brings to light the courage and perseverance of a man who wasn't going to have his life ruined by injustice. It's been almost 70 years since Melvin Dwork was discharged from the US Navy, at the height of World War II, for being gay and was given a discharge of 'undesirable'. “I resented that word ‘undesirable,’” said Dwork. "That word really stuck in my craw. To me it was a terrible insult. It had to be righted. It’s really worse than ‘dishonorable.’ I think it was the worst word they could have used.”

Because of the nature of that discharge Dwork, now 89 years old and a successful interior designer, was denied medical care and GI benefits. According to Aaron Belkin, an expert on gays in the U.S. military at UCLA, about 100,000 troops were discharged between World War II and 1993 for being gay and lost their benefits as a result. But Dwork fought this injustice for decades and it finally brought results. Last month the Navy, in its wisdom, notified the former corpsman that his discharge will be changed to 'honorable' and his benefits will be reinstated. "In the interest of justice," they said. And not only that, the Board for Corrections of Naval Records said it would reinstate Dwork’s benefits retroactively.

But this silver lining does have its down side. Once Dwork's records were unsealed he was able to determine who it was that turned him in all those years ago; his boyfriend at the time. To be officially labeled undesirable and outed by your own boyfriend, it doesn't get much worse than that. But to turn the situation around, move on with your life and ultimately succeed? Now that makes Melvin Dwork a very desirable man!

Thanks to an article by Steve Benen in the Washington Monthly for information on Melvin Dwork.

Photographer: Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images

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