‘Rainbow Momma’ opens her heart and home

Mary Smith’s family keeps growing and growing as she opens her doors to ostracized gay teens.

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A skateboard, a mini grill, a bicycle, some mismatched chairs and various other knickknacks scatter the floors and railings of a wraparound porch at the corner of Sherrod Avenue in Sherrodsville. Inside, the house isn’t exactly messy; it’s just well lived-in.

Graphic by Cody Wallis.

A number of people climb the porch’s steps each day and knock on the white door, ring the doorbell or simply wipe their feet and enter.

The house belongs to Mary Smith. But you can call her “Mom” — everyone else does.

“People ask me how many kids I have and I say ‘Well, what do you want, the short version or the long version?’”

For years, Mary has been “spiritually adopting” children who have been kicked out of their homes for being gay.

“I just believe that kids, no matter who they are, all deserve love,” she says, scooping up her orange 6-month-old kitten, Samuel Adams. “Especially with people who are gay, they have it 10 times harder. And just because their sexual preference is the way it is, it doesn’t mean that they don’t need love and respect.”

At Stark State College, where Mary is a medical assistant, she’s a member of the campus’ lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender student organization, LGBTS Global. Everyone there calls her the “rainbow momma.”

Mary says she doesn’t go looking for children to take in, they just kind of find her.

“Everybody knows that my house is the safe house where they can come get something to eat, something to drink, use the computer. I’m here for anybody and everybody. I’m never too busy to help someone out.”

Current residents of the house include Mary’s two biological sons Michael, 14, and JR, 20 —both straight— and Mary’s adopted son Joel, 26, and his partner, Steven. Joel is a paramedic and Steven is an EMT.

Joel and Mary met nine years ago, about six months after Joel’s mother had died. He grew close with Mary and eventually asked to move in with her. He also calls her “Mom.”

Joel is Mary’s only legally adopted son. Sherrodsville is Joel’s hometown, and his biological father lives near Mary’s house. Mary said Joel continues to live with her because of their close friendship and her acceptance of his and Steven’s relationship. Joel’s father knows he’s gay, but still Joel lives with his “momma.”

The soft murmur of his emergency radio can be heard from the living room where Mary is sitting on the couch staring up at a wall of framed photographs.

She runs through the names of her children and grandchildren like she’s trying to solve some elaborate math equation. She counts each name on one of her fingers and pauses to think if she’s leaving out someone.

It’s understandable. Anyone could get lost in the elaborate web of people surrounding Mary.

Outside of the four who live with her, there’s Travis, 36, her biological son from her first marriage and his four kids Kaitlyn, Ray, Demetri and Piper. Then her daughter Allison, 26, and her three kids Austin, Emma and Paige. Then there’s Elliot, a “surrogate grandson” she looks after regularly for two fellow members of LGBTS Global—but she calls him “Pooters.” Next are her other adopted sons Paul, 20, Jeremiah, 29, and Adam, 27. Mary also has some “adoptive daughters” in the form of JR’s girlfriend Rachel—who will soon give Mary another grandchild—and Brie, one of Michael’s classmates and date to the homecoming dance.

It’s crazy, she admits, but she loves it.

“Everybody just comes to the house. They know Mom’s here.”

It’s worth mentioning that Mary doesn’t legally adopt every one of her children; otherwise, she might be setting some kind of record. Instead, she uses the term “spiritually adopt.”

She says her two failed marriages have made her weary of formal titles and she decided she doesn’t need a piece of paper to tell her who she loves.

“They know they’re my kids, and I know I’m their mom.”

Last year, Mary made the decision to come out as bisexual to most of her family and club members. It’s something she said was difficult but possible because of the mutual support between her and her biological and adoptive children.

“I’m not happy hiding who I am,” she says. “I’m just me and I am who I am. I accept all my children, and I knew they’d do the same for me.”

Mary continues to get and give support across her community at Stark and in Sherrodsville. She says her motto is, “It only takes one person to have a child, but it takes a community to raise them.”

For a small town like Sherrodsville, Mary says she’s felt a lot of acceptance from people about what she’s doing.

“When people ask about my kids, I tell them ‘they’re gay’ and if they don’t like it they don’t need to be my friends,” she says, pushing a strand of straight brown hair behind her right ear. “No matter who or what you are, children need love and respect, and they need to know that somebody is there that they can count on.”

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