Nowadays, there are multiple LGBTQ media outlets for people around the world to tap into and see themselves and their stories represented. But this hasn’t always been the case.
When Franco Stevens realized she was a lesbian, there was hardly any representation of queer women. So in 1990, she decided to change that and founded Curve — the best-selling lesbian lifestyle magazine that still exists today.
Curve has had a massive impact on lesbian visibility and culture, bringing attention to problems that continue to persist in the LGBTQ community. Stevens’ legacy, the magazine’s history and its uncertain future is the subject of the new documentary Ahead of the Curve.
“It was hard to find, like, source material. It was hard to find really well-told non-fiction stories about us, about queer women, about our community,” says filmmaker Jen Rainin.
Rainin and Stevens met at a Curve holiday party and have now been married for over 11 years. But as Rainin learned more about the history of the magazine during the beginning of their relationship, she knew this was a story she wanted to tell.
Starting Curve, which originally was called Denueve, was a struggle for Stevens. At one point, to make the financials work, she took out several credit cards, cashed them all out and bet the money on horse racing. Luckily for the magazine, she won.
“I really started the magazine because I wanted it and I was tired of complaining that somebody else should do it. And once I really accepted the fact that this was sort of my fate, I just knew it was gonna happen,” says Stevens.
She also faced issues because most of the magazine industry never thought a publication with the word lesbian on the cover would ever work.
“You know how many people shot me down at the beginning because, you know, lesbian was too, too bold, too out there, too revealing? They thought it was suicide from the get-go,” says Stevens.
But through the hard work of many people, the magazine became a reality and started to connect people to their community. Curve began receiving letters from readers all across the country and that dialogue is what kept Stevens going.
“Those [letters] were in a way, our lifeline, as we hopefully were to them,” she says.
While Stevens is no longer a part of Curve magazine, this film is an extension of her work helping document and bring visibility to parts of the queer community. Both her and Rainin say their work will continue to foster conversations inside the community.
“We’re thinking about lifting up these stories, finding the people who are wanting to tell our stories and lifting them up and supporting them and encouraging cross-generational dialogue to connect the entire community to support this culture,” says Rainin.
You can watch Ahead of the Curve through the Milwaukee Film Festival now through Oct. 29.