A conversation with Franco, Founder of Curve Magazine and the Curve Foundation
“What? That is incredible,” is how Franco Stevens reacted when she first learned she would be the 2022 recipient of GLAAD’s Barbara Gittings Award for Excellence in LGBTQ Media. “I was floored because she’s such a huge role model to me. She’s laid the groundwork for my work for Curve Magazine for future generations. I just felt beyond honored.”
“I still do,” said Stevens. “To me, I kind of see it as a lifetime achievement award.”
And what a lifetime Stevens has had.
“I was married to a man and realized I was a lesbian, taking a class at the university called ‘Variations in Human Sexuality.’” said Stevens. And I went, “Oh, okay. I cannot stay married to you because I am gay.’”
At 21, she split with her husband of three years, a soldier who then outed her as a dyke to her family; Her parents disowned her. She lived in her car until a friend took her in, and the San Francisco State University graduate eventually landed a job in a Castro bookstore.
“Women would come in and ask for this resource that didn’t exist,” Stevens recalled in an interview over Zoom. “And I was like, ‘Oh, somebody should do this! And finally, I was like, ‘Oh, I should do this! Got it.’ If you want something changed, if you want to see something happen, do it yourself. I’m not going to take no for an answer, which has kind of been my life’s motto. I’m just going to go for it and see what happens, and if I go bankrupt, then I’m only 22 years old. By the time I’m 30, it won’t even be on my record anymore. You know, the older you get, the harder it is to take chances.”
Two stars of Showtime’s The L Word: Generation Q — Katherine Moennig and Leisha Hailey — and JoJo T. Gibbs of Twenties on BET, presented the Gittings award at the ceremony held on April 2 in Beverly Hills.
In her conversation with GLAAD, Stevens — Frank or Franco to almost everyone — shared some of the legendary stories she’s told countless times over the 31 years since she decided to create something lesbians did not have: A magazine of their own.
- Maxing-out a dozen credit cards and putting those cash advances toward bets at the racetrack on long-shot horses; Her bets paid off, and Stevens turned those winnings into funding to start her magazine with even more successful bets
- Settling a lawsuit over the magazine’s original name, brought by actress Catherine Deneuve
- Raising money by hosting a big dance party in which lesbian celebrities like Lea DeLaria raffled-off dates
- A life-changing injury on the job, when she stumbled and dropped two cartons of magazines she was carrying onto her feet. That accident resulted in her permanent disability and an exhausting level of chronic pain that led her to sell Curve Magazine in 2010. One of the biggest changes the new owner made was to remove the words, “A Lesbian Magazine,” from its cover.
Those stories and more are detailed in Ahead of the Curve, an incredibly personal film co-directed by her wife, Jennifer Rainin. The movie documents Stevens’ life and how she created the best-selling magazine in the world, sold it, then took it back and donated it to her newly created foundation that now runs an online edition of Curve —and, of course, put the slogan, “A Lesbian Magazine” right back where it belongs.
“Franco Stevens is a futurist,” said Jasmine Sudarkasa, the Executive Director of The Curve Foundation. “I’ve spent almost a year with the Curve magazine archive, and I am repeatedly struck by how topical and instructive the magazine has always been.
“Articles published in Curve Magazine in the early ‘90s speak emphatically to challenges we face today,” Sudarkasa told GLAAD. “Her foresight to include the voices of all of us, all along, is something to be celebrated. I am so proud that she is finally receiving her flowers, and look forward to seeing the rest of her legacy unfold.”
“I was in Australia editing its lesbian magazine, LOTL, when I first caught sight of Franco, as publisher of Curve Magazine,” said Merryn Johns, editor in chief of Queer Forty and a contributor to Curve. “This was a publication I looked up to, not just because it was out of North America but because I instinctively knew what Franco must have put into Curve to make it a lesbian reality in a competitive industry which, at that time, was dominated by gay male publishers, whether in the U.S. or in Australia. It was the same deal.
“Franco was a role model and she unknowlingly gave me hope that my own career as a lesbian journalist was not in vain,” Johns told GLAAD. “With her creation of Curve Magazine, she forced open and claimed a space in LGBTQ media that had previously not existed. And it flourished thereafter, covering and contributing to the entry of lesbian identity into the zeitgeist. The power and influence of this cannot be underestimated. Really, the idea of a lesbian journal of record started with Curve. You have to hand it to Franco for being the person who saw this need and stepped up to the plate and made it a reality.”
What follows is an excerpt from our wide-ranging conversation, edited for space and clarity.
GLAAD: What’s been your association with GLAAD?
FRANCO: I was actually on the board of directors of GLAAD in the late 90s, early aughts, and I originally got interested in GLAAD because they were — I don’t know if this is politically correct to say — really policing Hollywood, to make sure our stories were told more accurately because there was a lot of stereotype casting: If you were queer, you were a killer or you were you are not a good person in Hollywood, so GLAAD, really, in my mind, was a resource for mainstream media to get our stories going in the right direction.
GLAAD: I was wondering if you have any thoughts on this whole debate about how some gays and lesbians feel that transgender women shouldn’t be part of the LGBTQ movement, that we should only have LGB and leave the T to the side?
FRANCO: Well, how about when it was just, “We should only have the G and not the L,” or “Not the B,” or “Not the queer?” I mean, giving you a slice of pie doesn’t mean that I don’t get a slice of pie.
GLAAD: How do you handle the homophobia, biphobia, people who just can’t get their minds around the fact that love is love?
FRANCO: That’s really a great question, and, you know, I look at someone like my mom, who had such a hard time when I first came out. And then how the change could happen in her, where she’s like, “Oh yeah, this is my child,” because for her, it was like, “Oh, what will people think that I did wrong?” And now she’ll tell anyone. If a waiter comes up to our table that looks queer, she’ll be like, “You must know my daughter.”
GLAAD: I’d like to ask you about your wife and how you two met.
FRANCO: We met at a magazine holiday party. We quickly realized that we had some crazy food allergies in common, and we went out for vegan ice cream. She had a lesbian travel company called Suite, and they were going to be advertising in the magazine. So, they got invited to the party and we were both actually in other relationships, and mine wasn’t very serious at all and broke off quickly after that, and then we remained friends. Then, when she became single, we ran into each other at the Sundance Film Festival. And I didn’t know anybody else there, and neither did she and the rest is “herstory.”
GLAAD: My biggest question is. You’re going to be seen as a role model for younger people. How does it feel to you? Do you accept the mantle of being a role model? Is that something you’ve ever aspired to be?
FRANCO: It’s not something that was on my lifelong agenda, but taking younger people under my wing was always something that I loved and felt was my responsibility. When Jen first came to me with the idea of the Ahead of the Curve movie, I’m like, “Who is going to want to watch that?” You know? I was like, “I guess I’ll do it as long as you don’t ask me any hard questions that are going to make me cry.” Of course, I learned to really let down my guard, because I felt safe with her and her co director, Rivka [Beth Medow], to just say, “OK, whatever you want to ask me, I’m just going to give the honest truth.”
I really didn’t see the movie for the first time until I was at the Frameline premiere at a drive-in, an hour outside of San Francisco, during the pandemic. And I was like, “Who is going to drive an hour outside of the city to some middle-of-nowhere place to see this?” And it was the biggest event in Frameline history, with over 25-hundred people, like two screens. I was like, “This is crazy.” We need to tell more of our stories. I was really blown away and the response to the movie has been overwhelming. I mean, that’s what we’re really trying to do with The Curve Foundation, to make sure our writers and our community are able to tell the stories. Our point of view stories. You know, no one can tell our stories like we can tell stories.
You can’t put us in a little box. Queer people are as diverse as any other community, and even more so. And just because I’m a lesbian doesn’t mean I’m not disabled and doesn’t mean that I’m not a Jewish woman or a woman or a mother. You know, these are all part of me. It’s not segmented. This is what makes up Franco.
GLAAD: What challenges are you facing these days?
FRANCO: Everyone faces challenges and what’s important is how we meet those challenges. You know, there was a time where I thought, “You know what, I’m going to curl in a ball, lay in my bed and cry from the pain, and this is the best I can do.” You know, I couldn’t take care of myself, I couldn’t drive, I really could not do anything. So, I am glad I’m not in that place. I deal with horrible chronic pain, but I’m not living in a ball in my bed, 24/7. So, what is it that I do? I still go to the track! How ironic is it that I hurt myself making Curve Magazine? It’s kind of ironic to think I don’t really even know how to unpack that.
GLAAD: Anything else you want to say or our readers to know?
FRANCO: I want them to know about The Curve Foundation. You can find its mission on the site and the programs we’re working on, and I want them to know that they can stream the movie through their workplace diversity, equity inclusion groups, and Jen will make that happen. It’s great to see so many different corporations taking the time to show movies that really connect with their LGBTQ employees and people who just want to want to be inclusive. We are at a tipping point and the scale is not going in our direction. We need to donate whatever funds we can now to organizations like GLAAD, NCLR, HRC, Lambda Legal, the equality groups. Basically, we need to put our money into the battles that are coming.