Exclusive Interview by Karen Beishuizen
Photos courtesy of Marsha Stevens-Pino
Marsha Stevens-Pino is a Christian singer. She was born in 1952 and became a Christian at age 16. She got married at age 19 and had a boy and a girl. When she came out as a lesbian, some parents didn’t want her to pick up her own kids from church school. The Christian community would not let her sing with the group she was in at church anymore. As a Christian singer she had songs that were hymnals in many churches. Some churches gathered all their hymnals and tore her pages out. Then they put them in a big envelope and mailed it to her. She founded BALM ministries, which stands for Born Again Lesbian Music Ministries. She met her wife Cindy at a concert in Florida and they got legally married in August of 2003.
KB: Where were you born and how was it growing up?
I was born in Pomona, California in 1952…. many years ago. We lived in a small town in a house that my father and grandfather had built. My father was much older than my mother. He had been a pastor in several churches when he was younger and finally lost his clergy license for molesting young girls in his congregations, so you can imagine my own life was affected by his sickness too. My mother was a schoolteacher who eventually lost her job for showing up to work drunk too many times. There’s a lot more to that story, of course, but not part of this interview.
KB: How old were you when you realized you were gay and what made you realize it?
I was worried about being different by the time I was 11 or 12. Other girls wanted boys to hang around or crash our slumber parties and I was aghast! Who wanted boys around??? Every year at summer camp I had a crush on my camp counsellor and carried her picture around the rest of the year. I “practiced kissing” with a couple of girlfriends – you know, just so we’d know how to do that when we kissed a boy. I even made it into the school library to try to look up what it meant if you thought you liked girls and not boys. But the book I found said you should talk to your school nurse, so I never followed up on that!
Once I became a Christian at age 16, I learned that God had “made me new” and I thought that meant I was not a homosexual anymore. I was married to a boy from my high school by the time I was 19 and had a girl and a boy before I finally came out.
KB: How did your family and friends react?
My father had passed away before I came out. Honestly, I was relieved that my children never had to know him. My mother sounded at first as though she would disown me, “I guess what I’ll miss the most is the grandchildren.” But she had remarried by then and my stepfather was so loving and supportive (“Oh honey, I’m so glad you won’t be alone – that you have someone to love you”) that she sort of had to go along with him and she did come to love my first partner.
The church had a very different reaction. Many of them wanted to tell me what they thought the Bible “really said” about homosexuality. My children attended a church school, and some parents didn’t want me even picking up my own kids from school.
KB: I read that the Christian community reacted very hateful when you came out after your divorce?
Some of the Christian community said that they had “known all along” that I was gay. Now that surprised me. How did they know if I did not know? But most of them just wanted me gone. They would not let me sing with the group I was in at church anymore. By that time, I had songs that were hymnals in many churches. Some churches gathered all their hymnals and tore my pages out. Then they put them in a big envelope and mailed them to me. There was a lot of rejection. I think, at least here in the US, that happens a lot with churches.
KB: How did you meet your wife Cindy and when did you get married?
My first partner passed away. I had started traveling and singing for gay church groups and events by the mid 1980s. By 1993 I was doing that full time. I do have a nursing license in 26 US states, and I supported some of the traveling and singing by stopping wherever I was on tour and picking up nursing shifts at local hospitals. I also travelled with some people who were dying of AIDS and had no other way of traveling to see their family members or landmarks they wanted to see like Niagara Falls. I would take them in my tour bus and monitor their medications and their care and take them with me on the road. I called my traveling ministry BALM ministries, which stand for Born Again Lesbian Music Ministries. It was a way of taking back the whole “born again” words.
In the late 90s I met Cindy at a concert in Florida. We started emailing (which was very new back then) and since she was traveling for computer consulting and I was traveling to sing, we ended up meeting each other in different parts of the country and developed a friendship. On
one long drive from Toronto, Canada to Florida, she drove with me, and we decided to start dating. We got legally married in August of 2003.
KB: What do you think of all the religions out there who still see being gay as a sin?
Mostly I think people are misinformed. And sometimes religion can be a sort of exclusive club. I mean, if we let just anybody in, then we don’t feel special, right? So, Jesus was SO clear (and so were other religious teachers) about caring for the poor and for children, therefore we can’t leave them out. So, the LGBTQ community is a group they can leave out so that they feel special. But really mostly I think there’s a long history that includes poor treatment of women, that leads to men feeling like the VERY WORST thing they can be is anything like a woman, that leads to hating gay men, that leads to having to hate gay women too. But that’s a sort of complicated answer.
KB: You run a Christian Music Ministry with your wife Cindy. How do people react who don’t know you are married?
Oh, everyone knows we’re married. There are many churches in the US and Canada that are reaching out to the LGBTQ community. They love to have us tell our stories and for me to sing the songs I’ve written about coming out. Several churches who are trying to become more open to the gay community have us especially come to share experiences with people in the church. And there are some churches where most of the people in church are gay. I write and sing songs about our experiences.
KB: Did you ever have any anti-gay experiences or incidents?
The worst one was that I lost custody of both of my children in California in 1980 and the judge said it was because I was gay. He felt that made me a bad mother. I returned to court 9 months later and got custody back (and shared custody with their father), but those 9 months were awful. Most of the time the actual “anti-gay” stuff comes from people online. I try to answer every email because I think most of the time it makes a difference to that person that there is someone loving and kind to respond to those emails. I’ve had several experiences of making long term friends of people who started out with very anti-gay emails to me.
KB: LGBTQ+ is still a crime in many countries around the world. How do you feel about this?
The criminalization is terrifying. My wife used to travel several times a year to other countries to do medical clinics or build schools or teach people how to start business or use computers. She is not doing that very much at all anymore since that kind of travel can be very dangerous these days. So, there are teachers and schools and students and people with health issues who are not getting the benefit of her care because, of course, anyone can find out online that she’s gay.
KB: What would you like to say to all the anti LGBTQ+ people out there?
I think most of what should be said needs to come from individual people. It’s much harder to hate someone who is kindly and patiently explaining their feelings to you, than it is to just hate a group. I try to do a lot of one-on-one kind of conversation with anti LBGTQ people.
KB: Would you like to add something else to this interview?
I think the hardest questions for me to answer are from gay people who ask, “Why on earth would you ever want to be a Christian?????” That’s so sad. I love God and I am so confident that God loves me. I have plenty of things to work on in my life to be a better and more loving person.
Jesus helps me with that. I love church and how we support one another at my church. My wife was recently diagnosed and treated for breast cancer and our whole church took care of both of us; sitting in hospital waiting rooms, picking up medicines, bringing meals, doing chores, just making everything so that I only had to worry about taking care of Cindy. That’s how church should be, caring for each other for the people in the communities around us, learning to love more deeply and be kind more often. I’m so sorry that there are many people who will never experience that.
Check out Marsha’s Music Ministry website: HERE
Find her on Facebook: HERE