Brenna Harding: "I became a sort of poster girl for same-sex families"

At 20, Sydney-based actor Brenna Harding has already graced Aussie TV screens with her acclaimed roles in Puberty Blues; toured with the Sydney Theater Company in Jumpy; starred in Foxtel TV shows A Place To Call Home and Secret City; and carved a name her herself as an advocate for LGBT rights. We grabbed a moment with Harding to ask what else has been keeping her busy. By Grace Jennings-Edquist

On how she became an LGBT activist.

I was sort of born into that one, because I have lesbian mothers, and when I was about eight or nine I was on the set of Play School with my mothers and there was as lot of backlash from some other parents. That meant there were quite a few media opportunities for my parents and I to talk to media, and I became a sort of poster child for same sex-families for a while there in my early adolescence.

As I got older, that translated into my volunteer work with an organization called Wear It Purple, which ran mufti days at school where people wore purple to support LGBTI youth. I guess it was a natural progression.

On turning down roles for being sexist.

It’s hard, because there’s not a crazy amount [of work] in Australia anyway, so yes, I have had trouble finding roles.

I’ve noticed particularly recently when I’ve been reading scripts, I’ve had to tell my agent, “I’m going to be picky and I’m sorry.” Little things matter to me, like the way characters are introduced into the story. If I get a project and the lead roles are all men, and the character I’m going for is going to be simplified, I’m not going to go for that… I don’t want to do acting work unless it fits my values and principles.

On Moonlight Feminists, the collective she started with friends.

[We invited] women only to start off, because I was really aware of making a safe space for women to be able to talk about women, and that includes trans women and genderqueer, non-binary people.

We ran it out of the women’s library in [Sydney suburb] Newtown and it was just totally delightful. All the women would breathe a sigh of relief when they came in the door, and we would talk about all the things that had happened in the last month, on both a micro and macro level. We’d support each other, and [discuss things like] not knowing how to approach situations; like if we had a situation of misogyny at work, girls would come up with solutions.

Now there are about 60 girls. It’s unfortunate that because its such an intimate scenario, it can’t really grow that enormously. But what we have done so we can reach out and interact with more people, is we accept submissions by girls in the group who submit art, poetry, articles or anything that might be on their mind. We also have a podcast, which is an interview with a different girl in the group each time.

One of our most recent exciting events is we do an open word event once a month. It’s a really, really beautiful environment for women to be able to get up and talk about personal issues and feminist issues. It’s very supportive, and equal and loving and compassionate.

We talk about “calling in” rather than “calling out” at Moonlight Feminists. So if someone does say something that we disagree with, that’s an opportunity for us to share our perspective. And we have a view that if somebody says something problematic, that’s an opportunity for them to listen and learn. In Moonlight Feminists, listening is valued even more highly than talking, and it’s a valuable gift you can give someone, to listen.

On what’s missing from conversations about feminism in Australia.

The first instinct to see the best in someone and help them to grow. Sometimes feminism can feel like a bit of an exclusive conversation. Like Roxane Gay says, there’s no “perfect feminist.” Feminists get put on this pedestal and then people try to knock them down, and Roxane Gay says, “consider me already knocked off.” And I really love that saying.

And intersectionality is a really important thing in Moonlight Feminists; understanding that a woman is not just simply a woman and everything else about her identity is obliterated. I wish there was more attention paid to women of color, and non-gender binary people.

On her plans for the future.

I really love working on projects that other people have written. But it also really excites me to create my own stuff and collaborate with people. And I think in Australia and worldwide, there’s quite a push with creating your own work. [I look forward to] writing more parts for actors of color and writing more parts that explore sexuality.

This interview has been edited for brevity.

Photo: Lucy Deverall