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From childhood struggles to stand-up stardom, Philadelphia comedian Em Harnett is reclaiming the spotlight

Philadelphia comedian Em Harnett hopes to inspire others from LGBTQ families
Philadelphia comedian Em Harnett hopes to inspire others from LGBTQ families 02:46

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) -- Em Harnett has always lived for the spotlight.

"I was a very flamboyant child," Harnett said. "I wore my sunglasses. I felt like a star."

But as Harnett, who identifies as non-binary, entered grade school, they realized they were in the spotlight for a different reason.

"I was the only one in my classes that had LGBTQ parents or any same-sex couples. I very much felt alone in that experience in my childhood," they said.

Harnett was born in 1998 in Narberth and grew up with two moms in a loving household, but at the time, they discovered not everyone was willing to see that.

"Third grade was the really big realization of like, 'Oh, people don't like us sometimes,'" Harnett said. "We were all playing hide and seek. And she goes, 'Oh, I'm actually not allowed to hang out with people who have two moms.' And I just was very taken aback."

Childhood wounds turned Harnett into a thick-skinned teen. Soon, they started to push back with humor.

"It's the early 2000s, it was a lot of like, 'That's so gay,'" Harnett said. "Or, 'You're weird that you have two moms.' I was like, 'I'm weird for other reasons, not because I have two moms.'"

Years after their moms separated, Harnett, now 25, lives in Philadelphia and is putting their upbringing back into the spotlight through stand-up comedy. By performing, Harnett is reclaiming any negative part of their childhood experience.

"I think there's something so funny about different aspects of how I was raised. I am a donor-conceived child, and so that means I have a lot of donor siblings because I have an anonymous donor," they said. "I sometimes make a joke about like, when you're on a first date, you kind of say, 'Do you know who your dad is?'"

Ultimately, Harnett says their mom who they're closest with, Pat, has showed them how to live with love.

"It really comes down to her thoughtfulness. I think that embodies who she is, how she thinks about the world, people, and her child," Harnett said.

Now, Harnett hopes kids with queer parents can look up to them and others like them.

"I would hope for the youth now, they can see, like, wow, there are people that are like me in this world," they said. "We are adults now. We have been here for so long and we are living life successfully."

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