BY CURVE STAFF
April 2021-VOLUME 31 #1
Franco Stevens came on the Bay Area scene in the late-1980s, eager to immerse herself in the lesbian community she knew existed there. She went to A Different Light bookstore in the Castro looking for a magazine that would connect her to San Francisco’s vibrant lesbian scene only to be told that no such publication existed. She took a job at this same bookstore, and met other women hungry for the same sort of magazine. Franco decided to create what she and other women wanted; the story of how she did that is documented in the award-winning documentary Ahead of the Curve.
In 1991, Franco’s first issue of the groundbreaking Deneuve magazine didn’t feature a lesbian celebrity on the cover; the advent of lesbian chic and the wave of “celesbians” that would follow was still a few years away. But the issue did feature Franco on the back cover looking every inch the picture of lesbian chic: relaxed, confident, and brimming with chutzpah. Franco Stevens was a self-invented pioneer of lesbian visibility, using the medium of print to hold up a mirror to lesbians everywhere so they could see themselves — and find each other.
After almost 20 years of growing the world’s best-selling newsstand publication for lesbians and queer women — which also branched into events, merchandise and dating — Franco sold her stake in the brand, citing publishing and health challenges, as well as the desire to spend more time with her family.
Australian publisher Silke Bader acquired the magazine, and for ten years tried to meet the demands of an increasingly challenging world, where the label ‘lesbian’ fractured into other identities, and a digital revolution offered increasingly free editorial content — and rewarded shorter attention spans.
“It almost felt like when I sold the magazine, my child was going off to be married,” Franco recalls of the moment she decided to let her beloved creation go. Little did she know that ten years later, her ‘child’ would come back home. “I never imagined that would happen, partially because my physical abilities haven’t changed since I had to relinquish the magazine,” she reveals. “But this turn of events has given me a great opportunity to reconnect with the community and discover what we want and need now.”
In many ways, time has made the original mission of the magazine more urgent. When Franco was in charge, she was keenly aware that she wasn’t just producing reading material — she was creating permission for same-sex attracted women to hold space in the wider culture.
“Back in the day, we couldn’t have fathomed that everybody would be connected by the Internet. Having a gorgeous, glossy, mainstream-looking magazine that you could hold in your hands was a validation of our lives and our own community. It made us visible to both each other and to the wider world.”
Foremost, Franco wanted to create a ‘home base’ for lesbians. But locating that base was a challenge.
“We went on cross-country tours to lesbian bars and bookstores, we threw parties and events to create a sense of community and to introduce women to the magazine, wherever they were,” she recalls. “I mean, how do you get the word out about something that’s never happened before when there’s no internet? You have to hit the pavement. It’s not like today where you can find women in online spaces. We literally had to go to where they were. And sometimes finding them even in their hometowns was hard.”
Franco and the Curve team kept the kind of schedule you can when you’re in your 20s. They would visit a new city every day, do a radio show, a bookstore reading, a meet-and-greet in a coffee shop, and then head to a party in a club or bar that night, and crash with some local women or pack into a motel room if they had the cash. “The magazine became a way for women to connect when they had no other way to meet each other,” says Franco. “Talk about some powerful validation that you’re not alone.”
When Franco reaquired the publication in early 2021, the home base she had created with her magazine would become The Curve Foundation, a non-profit organization conceived to empower lesbians, queer women, trans women, and non-binary people of all races, ages and abilities to share our stories, connect and raise visibility. Franco donated the magazine to The Curve Foundation and feels thrilled to have the new Executive Director take the lead on the re-envisioned publication going forward.