This year Curve magazine is celebrating 20 years of publishing. Frances Stevens started the magazine 20 years ago and she is still at the helm of the largest lesbian publication in the United States.
Although Curve would love to be simply celebrating this tremendous feat, unfortunately it is also struggling to stay alive. I had a chance to chat with Curve publisher and founder Frances Stevens and her Executive Editor Diane Anderson-Minshall about Curve's history, how they hope to keep it going strong and the future of lesbian publishing.
Lesbian Life: Twenty years ago, you started Curve magazine. What other media was available for lesbians at the time?Frances Stevens: When I started the magazine, 20 years ago, there was a serious lack of lesbian media. We were lucky to have lesbian book publishers like Naiad Press and erotic magazine On Our Backs, but there weren't any national lesbian magazines that represented the whole of our lives. I remember the bank representative's comment when I went in for a loan to start the magazine: "Lesbian media? That's a contradiction in terms." I worked in a gay bookstore and women would often come in asking if a lesbian magazine existed. After saying no entirely too many times and wanting a lesbian magazine I identified with as well, it became obvious that this was my calling.
What did you hope to accomplish by starting the magazine? Were you successful?We hoped to unite the lesbian community. To celebrate our similarities, our differences and our accomplishments. To honor the women in our community. To educate and inform our readers. To smash stereotypes and tell women that you can be yourself, be individual, not what the mainstream media has pigeonholed you as. Now, 20 years after starting this magazine, things are very different and we've come a long way in gaining our rights. We are coming out earlier and taking pride in who we are and who we love. Yes, we have been successful at our original goals as a magazine, but as long as we don't have equal rights and full acceptance, we will not be fully successful as a community.
What have been some highlights over the past 20 years?Did you see this? Houston Press
What was your favorite cover and why?Wow, I think I need to see all of them lined up. In fact, I sure wish we had them pictured somewhere. They will be in our October anniversary issue. Just off the top of my head, I'm always the most blown away when someone in the public eye chooses to come out in Curve. The first time Amy Ray from the Indigo Girls said the "L" word, was with us. And most recently, I think of Chely Wright, the first country music star to come out. She spoke to Curve before any other media outlet (and even before coming out to her mom or her best friend).
What was your favorite article or interview and why?Looking back, there are so many amazing stories and interviews and while everyone loves the celebrity and pop culture stuff, I always like it when I hear one of our stories has really impacted women's lives. One of Victoria Brownworth's articles was about a form of preventable cancer and a test that gynecologists don't perform unless asked. Right after that article appeared we got a letter from a young woman who said we saved her life. That was one of many "you saved me" letters we've got through the decades. Oh, and one of my favorite articles would have to the one about a then-unknown purple haired 21-year old baby dyke named Rachel Maddow! Nice to see where she's gone, too.
I seem to recall that 20 years ago it was hard to get any celebrity to pose on the cover of a lesbian magazine. What's it like now? Are they beating down the door to get on the cover of Curve?It has always been difficult to get A-list celebrities to grace our cover. Our first celebrity cover was Melissa Etheridge. She dared to go where no other lesbian has ever gone. Today, it's easier than it was 20 years ago, but by no means is it easy. I think it's easier to get straight celebrities on the cover than our lesbian sisters. We get a lot of reader requests, asking "Why don't you interview so and so?" And nine times out of ten, it's because we got turned down. There's still fear about being a cover girl on a lesbian magazine.
Curve is more than a magazine. You host parties and big events, offer online dating. What function does Curve serve in the lesbian community?We have always wanted Curve to be an anchor for the lesbian community. One of my favorite aspects is the Curve Personals. It kind of feels like playing cupid. I love helping women find love. I can't tell you how many thank you letters we get about this. Here's one I received via Facebook just two days ago: "Frances I am all about unity in our community. I have been reading Curve for years and the most important thing of all is I met my wife on Curve Personals! We are now married! So I have a personal love for your company!"
What's going on with Curve now? Why is it in financial trouble?Sadly, it's been a really tough couple of years here at Curve. Like all of you, we're still feeling the economic crunch. For magazines of all sizes, sales in bookstores and newsstands are down, subscription sales are down and the number of people renewing their subscriptions is down-that's as true for us as it is for Newsweek or any other mainstream magazine. I get it. When it's between dinner and a magazine, reading is much further down on the list of Maslow's hierarchy of needs.
But Curve has always strived to be more than a mere magazine. We aim to be a community, a rare place among all the cacophony where queer women can hear our own voices, where we celebrate all the parts of our lives, not just our sexuality. And, like a few feminist and progressive organizations, we're choosy about who we allow to advertise in the magazine. Beauty and fashion ads are rare, tobacco and fur ads are forbidden. Why, when we need money so badly, would we turn away an advertiser? Because we know you are loyal to our advertisers: A full 90 percent of you said you're likely to buy from a company that advertises in curve or curvemag.com.