Championing Lesbian and Queer Women’s Stories and Culture 

By Giving List Women   |   May 20, 2024
Curve Foundation founders Franco Stevens and Jen Rainin. (photo by Barak Shrama)

“Lesbian” may be the first word in the LGBTQ+ acronym, but The Curve Foundation founders Franco Stevens and Jen Rainin think that too often, lesbians are prioritized last. Overlooked by the broader culture, lesbians are underrepresented in the nonprofit world, and lesbian-specific causes attract less than 0.01% of philanthropic dollars. 

“We’re finding a lot of people who fund women’s issues do not include queer women in that group,” Rainin says. “And LGBT funders tend to prioritize men’s issues. There’s very little attention on this space.” 

That’s why in 2020 the two, who are married to each other, created The Curve Foundation. It is the only national nonprofit organization that champions the stories and culture of lesbians, queer women, trans people, and nonbinary people through intergenerational programming and community building. 

Rainin and Stevens hope to expand Curve’s efforts, as the work is urgent now. Society may have become more accepting of LGBTQ+ people since the two first started working on these issues, but there is a growing backlash. “SCOTUS is fielding a barrage of ‘religious freedom’ arguments seeking to discriminate against LGBTQ people, hundreds of anti-LGBTQ bills are being introduced at the state level, and there are still far too many politicians winning elections with anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric,” Rainin says. Stevens adds that she’s also noticed, through The Curve Foundation’s Facebook community, that many women still feel “really alone.” 

Curve Quarterly volume 34 issue 1

One of Curve’s main goals is to increase the number of queer women who can make journalism a viable career while also telling the community’s stories. 

“No one can tell our stories like we can,” Stevens says. 

Curve incentivizes outstanding coverage through the Curve Award for Excellence in Lesbian Coverage and the Curve Award for Emerging Journalists, created in partnership with NLGJA: the Association of LGBTQ+ Journalists. The Emerging Journalists award recognizes and supports early-career journalists who demonstrate exceptional talent and raise awareness of LBTQ+ women and trans and nonbinary people. The Curve Foundation also runs a speaker series, photo contests, an online gathering space, and several other initiatives including promoting Lesbian Visibility Week in the United States.

“Showing people that they’re not alone is very important,” Stevens says. 

Stevens has been working on this mission since the late ‘80s, when she went to an LGBTQ+ bookstore in San Francisco and could not find a lesbian-focused magazine. “I didn’t see myself reflected in the media, and I felt alone. Here I was in San Francisco, and there should have been community all around me, yet I couldn’t find it,” Stevens says. 

Stevens and a group of friends in 1990 started what became the world’s best-known glossy magazine (which subsequently became Curve) that focused exclusively on lesbian culture and community. In her award-winning 2020 documentary Ahead of the Curve, filmmaker Rainin captured the power of lesbian visibility and community from the early ‘90s through the story of the founding of Curve magazine. 

Pre-internet, Stevens traveled the country promoting the publication at bars and coffee shops and hosting parties that brought lesbians together. As the community’s visibility grew, so did the number of “celesbians” whom Stevens put on the magazine’s cover. Stars like Ellen DeGeneres, k.d. lang, Melissa Etheridge, and the Indigo Girls came out – some for the first time – on the magazine’s front cover. But you didn’t have to be famous for the magazine to tell your story. Articles covered the arts, politics, relationships, sex, and friendships. There were wedding announcements, personal ads, advice columns, and profiles of community leaders.

“I wanted to know the women in the community who were making a difference, and I also wanted to know the women in our community who were just living their everyday lives,” Stevens says. 

Stevens sold the publication in 2010 but a decade later, she bought it back and donated it to The Curve Foundation. While Curve no longer publishes the print magazine, the foundation hired an archivist who is creating a searchable digital archive, and additional context is wrapped around the work in a quarterly online edition. 

“With so much of what’s happening in culture and politics today, there is a through line from what we were talking about 30 years ago in the pages of Curve,” Rainin says. “We are in a position to help people learn from the past and ensure that we continue on the right path today and our stories and contributions aren’t forgotten.” 

Rainin and Stevens hope The Curve Foundation will also show the value of female leadership. It’s a generalization, they acknowledge, but they believe women lead differently. Stevens prefers to lead by working collaboratively with a team. “I believe we can all do greater things together,” she says. Rainin believes others could learn from how women leaders tend to be more “alert to one another and generous with the people in the room.” Though not often reflected in traditional hierarchies, inclusivity and intentionality are valued at Curve. 

“We are more powerful when we use our voices together,” Rainin says. 

Neither wants to imagine a life without The Curve Foundation. They hope that with additional funding they can grow their work to support more culture-makers and journalists and increase visibility and connection. 

“As Senator Tammy Baldwin says, ‘If you’re not seen, you’re not counted, and if you’re not counted, you are not a full participant in society,’” Rainin says, and then adds a bit of her own wisdom. 

“If we don’t keep our stories front and center, they disappear. That makes it easy to discriminate against us.”

Through The Curve Foundation’s work, the “L” in LGBTQ+ should never be overlooked again.


The Curve Foundation

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Operations and Communications Manager: Sunny Leerasanthanah


The Curve Foundation is proud to further its mission of sharing our culture and stories, connecting with each other, and raising visibility by providing a searchable, accessible archive of the 30+ years of Curve and Deneuve Magazine issues.

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