Badass Women in Congress: Gwen Moore

Everyone knows that Congress is overwhelmingly white, male, cisgender, and straight: 81% male, 87% white and 96% heterosexual. Our incumbent Congress, the 113th, is the most diverse there’s ever been by all measures, with 8% Black, 6% Hispanic and 5.6% Asian membership, but still leaves a lot to be desired on the issue of adequate representation. Some of the most remarkable members of Congress, however, are found within these small pockets of diversity, particularly among the badass women in Congress.

Case in point: Gwen Moore, the U.S. Representative for Wisconsin’s 4th congressional district. A total badass through and through, and my personal favorite congresswoman.

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Not pictured: Someone who is going to take your shit

Moore grew up in Milwaukee, Wisconsin as the eighth of nine children. She attended North Division High School, where she served as student council president. In college, she became pregnant with her first child and depended on welfare and food stamps to survive, yet persisted through college to finish her Bachelor of Arts in Political Science, which she completed in 1978. She then joined the Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA) Corps, the domestic counterpart to the Peace Corps, and in Wisconsin, helped establish the Cream City Community Development Credit Union, which offered grants and loans to enterprising low-income citizens. She had two more children, but never married.

Moore earned the national “VISTA Volunteer of the Decade” award for her work from 1976 to 1986. She worked for the City of Milwaukee as a neighborhood development strategist and for the State Department of Employment Relations and Health and Social Services from 1985 to 1989, and contributed countless efforts to improve her community and society. She was elected to the Wisconsin Assembly in 1989, and gained wider recognition when she assisted in the investigation of Jeffrey Dahmer, who lived just a few blocks away. Moore was vocally outraged after discovering the police, at one point, released one of Dahmer’s victims, who had escaped, back into Dahmer’s care–despite the protests of two African-American women who stumbled across the boy in the street. (The victim, 14-year-old Konerak Sinthasomphone, was murdered by Dahmer shortly thereafter.)

Moore was elected to the Wisconsin State Senate in 1992, serving the fourth district from the following year to 2005. She was the first African-American woman elected to the Wisconsin Senate. In 2004, she was elected to the House, where she currently serves, with a 69.6% majority vote over Republican Gerald Boyle. She is the first African-American and second woman to represent Wisconsin in Congress.

In October 2003, Moore came out as a survivor of sexual violence, detailing assaults by a family member and a rape by an acquaintance when she was a young woman. She spoke about her trauma to defend the use of criminal background checks for school employees in private schools that signed on to a new school-choice program, emphasizing the importance that children be protected against sexual assault.

“It would be different if it were something you could ever be cured of . . . One of the things people don’t understand, they say, ‘Gwen, you’re 52 now. Get over it.’ Many people who haven’t had this experience minimize it. This is permanently disabling.”

In January of 2011 she was elected the Democratic co-chair of the Congressional Women’s Caucus and, in this capacity, has been a particularly vocal proponent of women’s issues in what is still an overwhelmingly male Congress. Moore has expressed support for Planned Parenthood, and spoke out against the 2012 passage of the Violence Against Women Act, which she argued did not offer enough protection for LGBT, Native American and immigrant victims. She is rated at 0% by the National Right to Life Council, indicating a pro-choice stance on abortion rights, and is aligned strongly with the interest of preventing pregnancy and providing backup and emergency contraception.

Gwen Moore shows a keen interest in foreign policy and world affairs. She is a U.S. delegate to the Organization for Security and Cooperation (OSCE) in Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly, and has pressured the OSCE to confront the problem of high maternal mortality rates across the globe. As part of the OSCE, Moore also has supported the cooperation of European countries on a variety of issues, such as of human rights and economic security. In 2009 she supported a biennial review of free trade agreements for rights violations and, in 2011, voted to impose tariffs against countries that manipulate currency.

Moore is a major supporter of increased funding and visibility for post-traumatic stress disorder, especially for military veterans, but also for sexual-assault survivors and other victims. Her voting record on immigration issues includes a 0% rating by the U.S. Border Control, indicating a firm open-border stance.

Rep. Moore voted Yea on extending unemployment benefits from 39 weeks to 59 weeks and voted to ban discriminatory employment compensation.

Moore’s voting history on drug issues, although mixed, is usually progressive. She is, in general, a supporter of increased rights and leniency for convicted drug users, and voted to end harsher sentencing for crack vs. powder cocaine in 2007. She also voted to allow rehabilitated drug convicts to receive student loans in 2008, and to expunge records for first drug offenders after probation in 2011.

Moore is also a clear advocate for low-income people and improvement to their communities. She has been a major influence in the efforts to curtail the practice of loan sharking in poor neighborhoods, is a strong supporter of federal TRIO programs (created to assist low-income students on the path to college), and has fought for more affordable housing.

In review, Rep. Gwen Moore is a welfare-mother-turned-congresswoman who survived multiple sexual assaults and assisted in the investigation of Jeffrey Dahmer. Today, she consistently supports women’s rights and mental health support; she has a robust record of support for low-income and immigrant populations, and for the chemically dependent, and has remained a strong defender of many other progressive causes. She is an excellent example of a person who has overcome significant obstacles and wields that experience to assist others in their struggles. I admire Moore particularly because of her resilience, given the hardships she has experienced, and because she appears to be a highly rational and well-read person dedicated to progressive politics, a rarity in modern Congress. She is, in three words, a complete badass. More people ought to know her name.

Duni Arnold
Duni Arnold is the Junior Editor of Issues for The Flounce and lives in Fairbanks, Alaska. Her subjects of specialty include women’s issues, race, social justice and policy. On a typical day she can be found oil painting, scribbling music, studying economics and browsing the interwebs on her laptop with her dog Star at her feet.
  • best all-around

    This is awesome! I really hope this will be a series. In a political landscape that sometimes seems like a lost cause, highlighting awesome women (and allies thereof) in congress gives me hope! Also, super well written and edited. I am a Flounce fan. I can’t wait to send this article to all my other disenchanted brethren!

  • relentless fuckery

    “She is rated at 0% by the National Right to Life Council,”

    I like her :)

  • TheeLoveCats

    What a great read! Gwen Moore truly IS bad ass. 😀

  • tinylights

    Loved this!

    (One caveat, though, it should be cisgender, not cisgendered. Just like you wouldn’t – shouldn’t – use transgendered.)

    • DoofMartin

      Thanks, tiny- we’re on it.

  • Crystal

    I love this- really hope it’s going to be a series!

  • lastrizzle

    I LOVE THIS. I hope we get to see a couple more of these!

  • OfAthene

    “Not pictured: Someone who is going to take your shit”

    love it! lol

  • Idealist

    Thank you for inspiring me with this, as I aim to also work in social justice when I graduate uni. 😀 She seems to be incredibly hard-working and has a very long list of achievements! Power on! Also flounce seems to be a great site!