Founder Stevens buys back Curve magazine
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Curve magazine founder Frances "Franco" Stevens celebrated the popular lesbian magazine's 30th anniversary with three big announcements last week. She bought back the publication, established a foundation to oversee it, and is releasing a documentary.
In 2010, lesbian publisher Stevens sold the magazine she conceived and grew for two decades to fellow lesbian publisher Silke Bader of Avalon Media in Sydney, Australia. Australian lesbian media expert Merryn Johns became editor-in-chief, leading the magazine in New York for the past decade.
That all changed this year. Stevens posted a video announcing the buyback of Curve and the launch of The Curve Foundation with the Black Eyed Peas' "I Gotta Feeling" playing in the background on her Facebook page Friday, April 16, the day the deal was finalized.
"I felt pretty great. If you look at my smile in that Facebook or Instagram post you'll see just how happy and excited I was," said Stevens, who is co-founder of the foundation.
Stevens and her wife, Jen Rainin, reacquired and donated Curve to the foundation while filming "Ahead of the Curve," a documentary about the magazine that premiered last June at Frameline, San Francisco's LGBTQ film festival. The foundation will empower and amplify voices of the Curve community — lesbians, queer women, trans women, and nonbinary people of all races, ages, and abilities, a news release stated.
Updated: After this article was published, Rainin responded to a question about how often the magazine will be published. For now, new issues will not be hitting the stands, she stated in an email.
"The Curve Foundation has decided not to publish new issues of the magazine at this time," she stated. "We are focused on lifting up the archive and putting out new writing around some of the archived articles quarterly."End of update
Rainin co-founded Frankly Speaking Films and co-produced and co-directed the documentary with Oakland-based, Emmy Award-winning lesbian filmmaker Rivkah Beth Medow. Lesbian-owned Wolfe Video will release it on digital platforms, and DVD on June 1 at the start of Pride Month.
"I'm so delighted," Stevens, 53, said. "Making that announcement was just so freeing, so powerful. The response from the community is just so heart-warming."
As of April 20, Stevens' video received nearly 900 responses, was shared 388 times, and received 362 comments congratulating her.
"Outstanding!! I remember when you were Deneuve. I was a baby dyke back then and always craved the arrival of the next mag in my subscription!" Jodie B. Yaver commented with a heart and rainbow emoji, referring to the original name of the publication.
Community leaders who were both writers for and featured in the pages of Curve expressed their excitement for its next chapter.
"I'm really excited that Franco is back at the helm," said lesbian novelist and playwright Jewelle Gomez. "Franco is an inspired entrepreneur, and it has been our good fortune that she has been inspired by communication and visibility for lesbians socially and politically."
An April 1994 profile of Gomez and her wife, Diane Sabin, is one of the first updated retrospective articles featured on Curve's new website.
"It's important to have the particular type of magazine that Curve has been, it investigates and illuminates a real broad variety of lesbian and queer life," said Gomez.
Kate Kendell, former executive director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights, described Curve as taking the lesbian community from "monochrome to Kodachrome," creating a true "sense of vitality and community for queer women."
"Now we embark on the next chapter of how we continue to elevate and center the stories of queer women whose lives and stories need to be understood and told," said Kendell, a lesbian who sits on the foundation's advisory council.
The announcement came ahead of Lesbian Visibility Day, April 26.
Jasmine Sudarkasa will serve as the foundation's executive director and oversee the publication, which will be nonprofit. She will be joined by former Curve editor Johns, who will be a contributing editor.
Johns is also currently the editor-in-chief of QueerForty.com, a Grey Jones Media digital media outlet, and group editor of Outvoices, a new queer digital media outlet produced by Aequalitas Media.
The foundation will steward the magazine through the present and into its future as a channel to fulfill its mission, Stevens told the Bay Area Reporter. The foundation digitized 30 years of issues of the publication. The issues are available to the public for free, according to the foundation's April 8 news release.
Stevens said the foundation's operating budget was still being developed and Sudarkasa's salary was currently undisclosed. The foundation is fiscally sponsored by SocialGood Fund as of January 2020, a representative of the organization confirmed to the B.A.R.
In 2010, after 20 years publishing Curve, Stevens made the decision to sell the magazine to focus on her family and health.
"It almost felt like when I sold the magazine, my child was going off to be married," Stevens said.
Stevens has been fighting a nerve disease and a work injury for more than a decade that has left her in daily pain and in a wheelchair. Her health challenges have not changed since she sold Curve, but neither has her love for the magazine she created and grew, or the diverse queer women's community represented in its pages, she said.
"I won't be physically running the magazine or the foundation," Stevens said. "[The foundation team] can take my mission and vision."
New York-based Go is one of the few existing glossy lesbian magazines, along with the United Kingdom's Diva and Australia's LOTL (formerly Lesbians on the Loose), also published by Avalon Media.
"This turn of events has given me a great opportunity to reconnect with the community and discover what we want and need now," Stevens stated.
She's excited about where Sudarkasa will take Curve in the future. "She's just a dynamo," Stevens said.
Outspoken Enterprises Inc., Stevens' company that published Curve for two decades, retained Curve's lesbian dating site at the time of the magazine's sale. The digital dating site still operates today, but Stevens was unsure about its future, she told the B.A.R.
Curve started as Deneuve magazine on maxed-out credit cards, a lucky run at the horse racing track, and Stevens' wages at A Different Light Bookstore, the now-shuttered LGBTQ bookstore in San Francisco's Castro neighborhood. She had a vision for a mainstream-style glossy magazine for lesbians.
The magazine changed its name to Curve in 1996 when legendary French film star Catherine Deneuve, who portrayed bisexual and lesbian characters in movies, filed a trademark infringement lawsuit against Stevens.
At the time, On Our Backs, the feminist-lesbian porn magazine, was the only glossy magazine for lesbians. The next closest publication was Los Angeles' Lesbian News, which had a glossy cover but newsprint pages. All other publications catering to queer women were newspapers and zines.
"Ahead of the Curve," which tells Stevens' and Curve's 30-year journey with the help of "celesbians" and community leaders. Lesbian Academy and Grammy Award-winning singer-songwriter Melissa Etheridge and Netflix's "Orange is the New Black" star and lesbian comedian Lea DeLaria appear in the documentary, along with community leaders and entertainers Kim Katrin, Denice Frohman, Andrea Pino-Silva, Amber Hikes, and Gomez.
The magazine has survived major disruptions in the publishing world: the internet and three economic crises, one of which is the pandemic-induced recession the world is experiencing just as Stevens made the decision to launch the foundation in 2020 and reacquired Curve this month.
Other queer women's magazines have fallen victim to tectonic shifts in the media and publishing industry during the last 30 years. Digital magazines, blogs, vlogs, social media networks, and influencers have cropped up bidding for audiences' attention alongside traditional print magazines; lesbian publications are no exception.
Still, Curve has remained a staple, arriving in queer women's mail and inboxes around the world and providing a platform for lesbian journalists covering queer women's issues and lives, allowing readers to see themselves reflected in the magazine's pages.
In the process, Stevens, who was in her 20s when she launched Curve, and the magazine helped define "lesbian chic" before anyone knew about lesbian style, or what "power lesbians" were. Stevens is a part of the Gen X wave of queer women who were unapologetic, desired connection, and wanted to see themselves and each other reflected in media.
Gomez told the B.A.R. that in addition to the wide variety of stories about lesbian lives, Curve and Stevens also brought lesbian style out of its bad rap phase. The women featured on its covers wore everything except flannel.
"Lesbians have really great style, something that Franco and Curve bring to our community exploring and expressing lesbian style [because] lesbians know how to step out. We have a style, a flurry, a flourish that Curve has always appreciated," Gomez said.
It was important seeing all of it in color on glossy pages inside Curve, which was something Stevens brought to the community and the magazine, Gomez said.
Around the Curve
The magazine was not impervious to the stresses of the rapid shifts and struggles faced by print publications.
Publisher Bader approached Stevens and Rainin, who was two-thirds of the way into filming the documentary, and informed them she was having trouble keeping the magazine alive, Stevens said.
"It's amazing that Silke kept the magazine going for all 10 years," Stevens said. "What a passion and what a gift, that took a lot of effort."
Bader and Johns did not respond to the B.A.R.'s request for comment by press time.
In the process, the documentary focus morphed from a historical biopic into a journey to answer the question, "Is Curve's mission still relevant today?"
The couple said yes, and reacquired Curve for an undisclosed sum.
"Visibility and representation are the most powerful tools to protect LGBTQ+ women, and my wife knew this 30 years ago," Rainin said in the foundation's release. "Her work moved the nation forward socially and politically by creating space, visibility, and empathy for anyone who identified as lesbian."
The film changed from being a chronicle of Stevens' journey from the 1990s to today to a journey about discovering Curve still has a purpose to fulfill just as it did 30 years ago.
"Curve magazine has come home and is now embedded in a foundation that will leverage the Curve brand and dedication to queer women and elevating stories to do so in an even deeper and more enduring way," said Kendell.
Rainin and Stevens tapped Kendell, 61, about 14 months ago to explore the foundation's viability and set it up. Kendell's tenure as interim chief legal officer of the Southern Poverty Law Center ends April 30, she told the B.A.R.
The documentary includes the launch of the foundation that will steward Curve's mission supporting emerging queer women journalists in partnership with the NLGJA: The Association of LGBTQ Journalists and providing a platform for visibility for cross-generational lesbian dialogue and stories.
"We want to fund the next journalists in our community," Stevens told the B.A.R. "We want to support the writers and the journalists in whatever format that takes place," she said about the magazine and the foundation's projects.
"We are starting to see some community buy-in after the announcement," Stevens added.
Stevens and Rainin co-founded the foundation and sit on its advisory council, along with lesbian powerhouses Kendell and former founder of PlanetOut.com Jenni Olson.
They are joined by former Curve editor-in-chief and current Pride Media Inc. Chief Executive Officer and Editorial Director Diane Anderson-Minshall; MyUmbrella Founder CEO Angelic Williams, Full Circle CEO Deb Stallings, Masto Foundation Executive Director and Queer Leaders in Philanthropy Founder Sparks (who uses one name), and Cuban lesbian activist Pino-Silva, who is also in the documentary.
Pride Media Inc. publishes the Advocate, Out, and Out Traveler among other LGBTQ magazines.
Sudarkasa, who will lead the foundation, designed and led the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation's $15 million anti-racist grantmaking effort in 2020. It was her most recent achievement in her nonprofit and foundation career, she said in the foundation's April 9 release announcing her taking the helm of the foundation.
Stevens, Kendell, and Gomez expressed their excitement to see where Sudarkasa takes the foundation and Curve.
"Jasmine is a terrific first executive director for the foundation," Kendell said. "Her connections, her depth, her life experience that she brings as a Black lesbian to this role is exactly what the foundation needs."
Gomez, who is also a retired philanthropy professional, expressed her excitement about Sudarkasa being named to lead the foundation, calling it a "new era for the queer community."
"Communications and visibility are so important. It is the key to opening the door to recognition of our full humanity. So, having a foundation that can step up and look at how to support women of color and lesbians is really going to be exciting," said Gomez, noting the loss of Black lives to come to this "particular period in history [where] people are embracing an understanding of the way our culture has been cheated out of the full energy that people of color can bring to positions of power."
Kendell echoed Gomez, recognizing queer women of color and queer transgender women's stories "have not received the kind of audience and attention and depths of examination that these stories deserve, these lives deserve.
"I think that we are all enriched by seeing the breadth of who our community is," she continued. "The Curve Foundation is committed to centering those experiences and stories, and in doing so elevating the joy and the depth of what it means to be a queer woman in this culture."
As she stated in the foundation's release, Sudarkasa welcomes the opportunity to expand the community's stories beyond the "singular narratives of grief."
"I look forward to the continued opportunity to highlight the 'ordinary joy' and extraordinary leadership of this community, and to creating new opportunities for the meaningful, cross-generational and cross-cultural conversations that began on the pages of the magazine," she stated.
"Ahead of the Curve" is now available for DVD pre-order at: https://www.wolfevideo.com/products/ahead-of-the-curve
Check out Curve's new website at www.curvemag.com
Learn more about The Curve Foundation, at https://thecurvefoundation.org
Updated, 4/22/21: This article has been updated to indicate new issues of Curve will not be published at this time.
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