While some of us were baking banana bread or growing sourdough starters during the first quarantine, Maura Bennet-Martins was laying the groundwork for a different kind of hobby: turning straight garden gnomes into queer icons. Two years later, Super Gay Gnomes is a thriving small business selling hand-painted, glitter-coated garden gnomes in a rainbow of colors.
Bennet-Martins, who lives in Boston with her wife, explains that the business started out as a silent protest against a bigoted neighbor. “I was out of work because of the lockdown and we had just recently moved into this condominium complex that we live in,” Maura says. “We were talking to a neighbor and I don’t necessarily think she’s homophobic, I think she’s just ignorant, but she was talking about these other women that lived in the complex that she does not like and she kept calling them dykes.” Gathering together her existing gnome collection, Bennet-Martins got to work making them as gay as possible. “I just started painting all of my garden gnomes so that if she was talking to someone else, and referring to us as those dykes, they would know exactly who she’s talking about. There’s 25 gay gnomes in my front yard!”
Soon friends began to notice, requesting their own Super Gay Gnomes. But it was TikTok where the business truly took shape. “I did a video putting a lash on a gnome. It was literally 60 seconds of me trying to put this eyelash on and overnight it just blew up. I think I have like 675K views on that. People were just like, ‘Oh, do you sell these? Where can I get one?’ So then I made a couple and people started buying them.” Bennet-Martins now has over 58,000 followers and 695,000 likes on the platform. She didn’t expect to go viral initially, but feels the popularity of her content makes sense — as her diverse cohort ensures that there’s a gnome for everyone of any race, gender, or orientation.
Bennet-Martins releases new gnomes monthly on “adoption days.” She chooses to frame the business this way because just like adopting a pet, each gnome becomes a member of the family and has their own special quirks and features.
“They all come with personalities,” she explains. “They all have a name and a birthdate which is the day I finished making them. And then they have like a little bio of things, their likes and dislikes. You know, this one’s a little mischievous—if you’re missing a sock, he’s probably got it—or this one likes to stash candy places.”
Custom orders are available too for those who want even more personalization.
“People tell me stories about how they want, say a bisexual gnome with this tattoo to represent their daughter who just came out,” she says. “I have done a lot of custom ones: they have special tattoos for their partners or they say ‘This is their dog, can you put a dog on the back of the shirt?’”
Some people also keep in touch to share their gnome’s adventures after going to their new homes, which Bennet-Martins finds particularly satisfying. “There’s someone that has a gnome and she posts all the time, she takes it everywhere with her and she posts all these pictures on Instagram of this gnome on his little adventures,” she says. “I love how it is so much more to people than just like this cute little gnome.”
As well as becoming a full-time business for Bennet-Martins, who also works as a hairstylist, Super Gay Gnomes has also raised money for other causes. On TikTok, Bennet-Martins has hosted giveaways and competitions, with proceeds going towards helping LGBTQ+ people in Ukraine and trans youth in the U.S.
“For Ukraine, I had a friend of mine design a shirt and then 100% of the profits went to a charity that was geared to helping get LGBTQ people out of Ukraine and into safe houses. I did one to protect trans youth and I had that up for a couple of months and then all of the proceeds for that went to a specific charity as well,” she explains. “I’m going to do one charity a month to go to whichever state needs the most help. I try not to do major organizations, and try to do more of the grassroots ones because I feel like smaller organizations spend the money to help people and not necessarily pay salaries.”
And as for the activism in her own front yard? The silent protest is still ongoing. “You can buy a flag and you can hang signs up, but it’s really hard to get mad at a garden gnome with eyelashes,” Bennet-Martins laughs. You can follow Bennet-Martins on TikTok and Instagram for glittering gnome related updates, or head to her website to adopt your own.