Bridging the Lesbian Past and Present

Over 30 years ago, Frances “Franco” Stevens founded Curve, the most successful lesbian magazine in the world, connecting lesbian community, changing the way lesbians are seen by the mainstream, highlighting the transgender experience, raising awareness of attacks on LGBTQ rights and amplifying the work of lesbian activists. One of the three 2021 recipients of the GLBT Historical Society’s History Maker Awards, Stevens reacquired Curve and co-founded the Curve Foundation last year to empower the Curve community — lesbians, queer women, trans women and nonbinary people of all races, ages and abilities.

The Foundation’s mission is to spur storytelling and cross-generational dialogue by supporting journalism inspired by the tradition of Curve magazine, investing in the next generation of intersectional leaders and bolstering community archives to ensure LGBTQ women’s culture and history are known. In addition to a fellowship to support emerging journalists, the foundation is establishing its own digital archives to preserve the living legacy of Curve magazine and inspire future writers. The foundation is currently hiring an archivist to oversee the launch of this initiative. We sat down for a chat with Stevens and Jasmine Sudarkasa, the Curve Foundation’s executive director.

The GLBT Historical Society’s archives enable people to learn about the LGBTQ past. Likewise, how are the new Curve Foundation’s activities inspired by the past 30 years of Curve magazine?

Jasmine: The work of the foundation is rooted in the magazine’s legacy: we resource stories and storytellers that embody authenticity, cultivate a sense of belonging and support intergenerational trust and resilience. These values are inspired by lesbian legacies of community building and culture work, particularly as embodied in Curve magazine. Putting these values into practice, then, we maintain two programs: The Curve Award, to resource LGBTQ storytellers, and The Curve Archive, which curates, activates and preserves lesbian stories well into the future.

Franco: There is no other organization that bridges our past and our present so directly. By preserving and making the Curve Archive available, we are honoring our history and making it visible and accessible today. By supporting today’s journalists and inviting them to find inspiration in the archives, we are fostering an intergenerational dialogue. All of the foundation’s programming is rooted in our history as a way of not only preserving our past, but also informing how we carve out our future.

The Curve Award is designed to foreground the voices of those who have been marginalized or censored. What kind of support do recipients receive?

The five winners of the Curve Award receive a $5,000 cash award, one-on-one mentoring through the National LGBTQ+ Journalists Association (NLGJA), cohort-based professional development and opportunities for outward-facing visibility. This might include conference presentations at NLGJA, writing opportunities for Curve, and so on. We are incredibly proud of the 2021 cohort—they are an incredible cadre of emerging journalists and have been published everywhere from the New York Times to Them. Applications for the 2022 cohort will go live in April, and we hope to hear from many more journalists this year. 

The Curve Archive will make the entire run of Curve magazine available to the public in 2022; how has the GLBT Historical Society’s work helped with this project?

The GLBT Historical Society has been an invaluable partner to us in our first year of operations. The archival and development teams have been incredibly gracious, helping us to understand what it really takes to orchestrate and operate a compelling archive. We have a lot of gratitude for the leadership of the society in both setting the standard for efficacy and creating space to teach new partners in the field. It’s a very generous way to steward LGBTQ history, and very much in line with our approach to the work.

Frances “Franco” Stevens founded Curve in 1990. She has served on the board of GLAAD, was a founding board member of the San Francisco LGBT Center, and has worked extensively to promote lesbian visibility and educate media professionals on the lesbian market. Franco is the subject of the documentary Ahead of the Curve (dir. Jen Rainin and Rivkah Beth Medow, 2020).

Jasmine Surdakasa is the executive director of the Curve Foundation. She learned philanthropic practice while serving as the program fellow for the Effective Philanthropy Group at the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, exploring equitable methods and power-sharing. Before philanthropy, she served as the senior trainer on behalf of Girls Educational & Mentoring Services (GEMS), subject agency of the film Very Young Girls.