Then and Now in the Queermosphere

Jun 7, 2022

June is Pride Month, but what does that mean? How does our state support LGBTQIA+ members, and what is the best way to get informed on this issue? Today’s Lady Lawyer League podcast features Mark Barta, a paralegal at Hightower Reff Law, who also dedicates much of his time advocating for LGBTQIA+ rights. This episode explores the challenges Mark has found living in Omaha compared to other cities, and the encouraging signs of support that give hope to those who need it most.


Susan Reff: On today’s podcast, we are celebrating Pride Month and we have with us today our very own, very proud Mark Barta, who will give us a guided look into the queer sphere. By the end of the special episode, we are hopeful you will feel more educated about what the LGBTQIA community faces daily, both the good and the bad, and grow your respect for the people who have fought so hard and continue to fight to inspire change.

Intro: Welcome to the Lady Lawyer League podcast. They are a league of lady lawyers in an all-female law firm in Omaha, Nebraska, called Hightower Reff Law. On this podcast, you’ll hear stories of what it’s like to be a lady lawyer and an entrepreneur. Now it’s time to talk about the law, share real-life stories about representing clients and discuss the current events of the week. It’s the Lady Lawyer League podcast with Susan Reff and Tracy Hightower-Henne.

Tracy: Hi, Mark. Well, hi.

Mark: Hello, all. How are we?

Susan: Don’t talk into the coffee cup. That makes some.

Mark: Weird. So sorry.

Tracy: Mark was talking whilst drinking out of the coffee mug.

Mark: It’s true.

Tracy: That he’s.

Mark: Breakfast. Yeah. I use the same coffee mug here at Hightower every day.

Susan: The same.

Tracy: One.

Mark: The same. Oh, black one.

Tracy: It’s beautiful.

Susan: It’s larger than some of the other cups.

Mark: I.

Susan: Feel. Does the coffee taste better?

Tracy: No.

Mark: It just hits better in this cup. For some reason, I think I just like the shape of the cup.

Susan: Yeah. So, Mark, you’re one of our paralegals.

Mark: I am one of your paralegals.

Tracy: You get to join us by coming down the hall today.

Mark: I did. I did. Yes. So I have been here since gosh, has it been almost three months now? I think it has been three months.

Susan: Don’t ask Tracey. I didn’t have my PTO.

Mark: Kicked in, so it’s been three months.

Tracy: Yes. Yay.

Mark: So, yes, I was at a law firm before this and before that I was a district court bailiff for Gary B Randall.

Tracy: Also a past guest of our podcast.

Mark: Great guy. Great guy.

Tracy: Are you from Omaha, Mark?

Mark: I’m originally from Omaha, Nebraska. I was born in Florida and then my mom moved us to the Midwest when I was about six months old and then ended up in Omaha when I was about a year. And yeah, so I grew up here and happy to have grown up in Omaha. I think it was a great place to grow up.

Tracy: But you’ve also lived in way cooler places.

Mark: I have. So like coming out for me was very interesting. It was not well accepted in my world at that moment, so my only opportunity was to run from everyone that I knew. So I decided.

Tracy: But not really physically.

Mark: Not physically run, but on a plane.

Susan: That sounds better. Yeah. Like.

Tracy: Yeah, I just didn’t picture you as a runner.

Mark: Not unless I’m being chased. Yeah. Then I’ll run. But, like, when I graduated high school, I thought, okay, what’s the farthest away I can get? And so my decision was California. So I moved out to California for a year and then I hated the people of California. And then I decided I was auditioning for a school in New York and got into that school and then spent two years in the school and then for years performing professionally around the nation. The last show I did, I met a Brazilian man. We fell in love. I ended up moving to Brazil for 11 years and teaching English and moved back to the States in 2015.

Tracy: You said you were performing.

Susan: I know performing.

Mark: I, my background is actually in musical theater, so I’ve done a bunch of different shows.

Susan: What was your favorite show you’ve ever done?

Mark: Probably my favorite show I’ve ever done was Little Shop of Horrors. Ooh, yeah, that’s cool.

Susan: Our high school just did that. I went to.

Mark: This.

Susan: One show. Yeah? Yeah. What was your.

Mark: Role? I was Seymour. Oh, so yeah.

Susan: Seymour.

Mark: Yes. Or I was Joseph inJoseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, which was really fun.

Susan: I played a biblical character.

Mark: And I also did a couple of national tours with the Omaha Community Playhouse with their Christmas Carol. So I got to do that.

Susan: What did you play? Who did you?

Mark: I was Peter Cratchit, and I was also my first national tour. I was the dancing doll.

Susan: So how come you’re not performing anymore?

Mark: Being a performer is very interesting because it’s like either you are married to that lifestyle and you’re traveling all the all the time, or you’re ending up in New York and auditioning and waiting tables and then back on the road and blah, blah, blah, blah. Or you have a normal life where you can have a relationship and like have friendships that you actually can see these people on a consistent basis. So I just kind of decided when I fell in love that I don’t want to do this with my life anymore. I want.

Susan: Relationships.

Mark: I want a normal life, and I don’t want to have to worry about how I’m going to pay my bills.

Tracy: Oh, so what was your favorite part? About iving in Brazil 100%.

Mark: The people and the weather. Brazilians are some of the most beautiful, welcoming, friendly, kind hearted will love you. Every time you go over there, you’re eating something like they’re feeding you.

Tracy: What are they feeding you?

Susan: I’m picturing eating Europe’s.

Tracy: Meat on.

Susan: Swords.

Tracy: Well, that’s what we know. You know, it’s Brazilian steakhouses.

Mark: It’s very interesting and eclectic because Brazil is a very big multicultural nation. So you’ve got a big influx of like Arabian and Japanese and Italian. And so, like, you go to what we call buffets and you can sit down and you can get lasagna, you can get Chinese food, you can get whatever. And it’s all amazing and cheap. It’s all done by the kilo. So like whatever you put on your plate, you put on the scale, you pay that price. I would eat there every single day.

Tracy: So it’s better than the Cracker Barrel God.

Mark: So much better than wait.

Tracy: That’s not a buffet.

Mark: The Golden Corral.

Tracy: Golden Corral. Thank you. All right. So the golden I would.

Mark: Go back to the Golden Corral. I think we.

Susan: Should go to a.

Mark: Firm lunch at the Golden Corral once.

Tracy: Oh, we’re. We really shifted.

Mark: Yeah. People watching. Oh.

Tracy: I think mac and cheese is, oh their.

Susan: Ice cream machine.

Mark: With sprinkles.

Susan: Hmm.

Mark: Mm hmm.

Tracy: Susan wants to put gummy bears in our ice cream, though.

Mark: All the time. I did that.

Susan: When I was.

Tracy: It gets done. They get hard.

Susan: But it’s still worth it. I don’t mind if they’re hard. So Dairy Queen has a new blizzard that has gummy worms in it.

Mark: Is it the mud one? Yep. I ate that.

Susan: Oreo mud pie or something like that. We, Jonathan got it last night.

Tracy: One of the things that you’ve done, Marc, is transition your. Well, no, I mean, we want to talk about your your project, your baby, called the QueerMosphere. Right. Did you come up with that term?

Mark: I like to believe I did.

Tracy: Yeah. Because go with it.

Mark: If you Google it, you’ll see that it was mentioned in 2005 in some random article. But then if you Google queermosphere now every single thing that comes up is me. So all of my social media is queermosphere. So I’d like to say that I’ve coined the phrase.

Tracy: The first one that comes up. Is Your Spirit Facebook page. And Google also says, Did you mean Thermosphere?

Mark: And we didn’t.

Susan: What’s thermosphere?

Mark: I don’t know.

Susan: What’s queermosphere?

Mark: So I felt like I wasn’t doing anything for the queer community. So and not only that, nor did I feel like I knew or was educated enough about my own community. So I decided to create this vlog project and it started out as LGBTQ underscore today. And what I would do is I would record a video every single day. And basically what happened that day in terms of queer history or like queer legislation, if it was an important queer person’s birthday, if they died that day, and I would do like a visual so that you could like read what the history historical portion was for that day. And then I would accompany that with a video which would basically give more information about that specific person or legislation or whatever. And I ended up doing that for 365 days. Wow. Yeah. And it was really great because I really just kind of wanted to educate myself on the queer community and all that we’ve had to offer and everything that we’ve struggled through. And I was like, Can I actually find something that happened every single day? Are there enough queer things out there? And there were multiple things on every day that I could talk about, sometimes three or four things that happen that day.

Mark: So I did that for a year and then I decided that I didn’t want to. I got lazy and decided I didn’t want to record a video every single day. So I decided I was going to shift my platform and I changed the name to Queer Atmosphere. And what I do now is on Sundays I utilize a online article called LGBTQ Nation dot com and I get emails throughout the week like probably every other day of articles, queer related articles. So Sunday morning I’ll get up in the morning, I’ll pick out three articles that I feel are interesting, important or odd things that make me mad. And what I’ll do is just basically record a recap of those articles and kind of give my opinion, and then I post them on Sunday mornings and I basically say, It’s the queer atmosphere, your weekly insight into anything queer. And we go from there.

Tracy: So where can people find Queer Atmosphere?

Mark: So if you Google Queer Sphere, obviously I’m going to pop up so Queer Sphere on Facebook, Tik-tok, Instagram and YouTube. And then at some point, hopefully I start a queer misfit website, but I think I have to buy the dot com from somebody.

Susan: Somebody already has it.

Mark: Yeah, but I’m sure it’s like it wouldn’t be that hard. You throw them 200 bucks.

Tracy: Yeah. Give me your dot com.

Susan: Give me your dot com.

Mark: But it’s been really fun and you know, it’s something that I get to do personally. I get to make sure that I’m informed of what my community is going through on a weekly basis. So it keeps me accountable and it helps me to be a good queer person. In my opinion. I try to be a decent human queer.

Susan: What kind of feedback do you get from folks?

Mark: Well, here’s the thing. Like, I don’t really try to promote it so much.

Tracy: Except for now, now.

Mark: So we’re plugging it now, so please go and follow so I can get more feedback. A lot of it is positive. I’m very outspoken. So there are a lot of times where people will try to tone police me and tell me that I should have probably phrased something in a different way or you don’t have to be angry about it, or I don’t like your attitude to which I respond, then don’t follow me.

Tracy: Go do your own queer sphere.

Mark: Yeah, start your own platform. This is my space, you know, so you get kind of that. But a lot of it is supportive. You would be surprised how quiet people can be.

Susan: What does that mean?

Mark: It’s like you you post something that you feel like this is really important and then like nobody comments and you’re like, Oh, so I don’t know if I’ve really gotten the hang of social media and how to do it. I know if you spend $30 to promote it, it works.

Tracy: People are watching, though.

Mark: Yeah, people watch it. It’s just I don’t know if they like to put themselves out there in a comment or to share or something like that. Because like I would say, I’m not for everybody.

Tracy: But I think your content is really important though as a piece for awareness. Right. And a lot of things that we talk about on this podcast are bringing awareness to different topics. So. Keep doing what you’re doing in the sense that if someone’s listening, they’re learning something, right? Yeah.

Mark: And a lot of this stuff is, is like, for instance, I just did my last video was about I think it was a congressman who wanted to put, you know, those warnings we get on TV where it’s like mature audiences only. Well, now, if any queer individual is going to be displayed in a TV show, this congressman wanted one of those warnings.

Tracy: Stop it. To say.

Mark: What? That your children are going to be exposed to queer issues in this episode. So viewer discretion is advised. So like specific things like that, that would be an article that I would say, Oh, no way. Yeah, I’m definitely not 100% against this. And people need to know that this is happening because this is absurd.

Tracy: So on your queer atmosphere, you talk about queer changemakers. So who are some of your favorites?

Mark: Well, one of my favorites is definitely Alan Turing. Alan Turing was a mathematician back in World War Two. He was a code. He is also kind of the father of our CPU’s, like the computers that we use in our households. He effectively was one of the people that ended World War Two through his code breaking and he was not taken care of after that. He was persecuted for being homosexual by the United Kingdom. They forced the castration on him and due to all of those things, he ended up taking his life years after, of course, as many countries do. They issued a pardon back in 2013, basically apologizing for the atrocities that they’d done to Mr. Turing. But there are a lot of great individuals throughout history that have done great things. But the only thing we don’t know about them is their sexuality, because it’s so taboo. So if we can just tag in that they also happen to be a queer person for queer people. That is so important because then we are recognized and as a young person you can say, Oh wow, I see my, my, I see myself in that person and I can do great things.

Tracy: And there’s a movie about him. Yes. And that I just found out about and I can’t wait to watch called The Imitation Game.

Mark: It is an amazing movie. It’s a tearjerker. It goes through the beginning of how they they start this process and how difficult it was to build this computer and then this codebreaking machine and then kind of follows his life afterwards. And it’s really sad.

Tracy: So as you’re describing him, my brain went to I bet he would be really good in escape rooms for sure. And I’m like, I already like this guy code breakers. That’s what I feel like when I do an escape room as I’m breaking codes. Yeah, but I’m not a mathematician, so.

Mark: Well, and, you know, it’s just really sad because, like, we don’t learn about queer history in school. So, like, not a lot of people know about these individuals, but they’ve done great things and they should be taught about and, and so much of who they were as people is, is being queer. So I think that needs to be part of the conversation as well.

Susan: Anyone else besides Alan Turing that you want to talk about?

Mark: Well, like Larry Kramer, Larry Kramer was one of the biggest AIDS activists during the AIDS epidemic. He started the Gay Men’s Health Crisis and act up. So if you know those black t shirts with the triangle that says silence equals death, Larry Kramer was responsible for that. He organized a bunch of Dion’s where a bunch of queer folk would go into Catholic churches and just stand up and then throw themselves on the ground to represent all of the people who had died because of AIDS. So, yeah, Larry Kramer, Joe Bert are Gilbert Baker, who created the Pride flag is also pretty iconic.

Susan: When did the Pride flag come around?

Mark: Do you know what? I don’t know that for sure. Okay, look that up. I want to say it would have to be early 1978.

Susan: Oh, according to Google’s.

Mark: That sounds about right. 1978.

Susan: Gilbert Baker.

Mark: Yep. Yep. And then I mean, do we know Roy Cohn like the crazy McCarthy era attorney, like, like prosecuted like people for being communists and was totally like anti LGBTQI.

Susan: Oh, he was Senator Joseph McCarthy’s chief counsel.

Mark: Yes. And it was horrible to the queer community during those decades and happen to be a closeted homosexual and I think even died of.

Susan: HIV/AIDS.

Mark: So he is actually hated by the queer community.

Tracy: Speaking of the AIDS epidemic and I’m the reader, Susan is too. Susan’s a big I don’t.

Susan: Read nonfiction, though, usually.

Tracy: Well, this is not a non-fiction book. So great.

Susan: That’s the difference.

Tracy: I really like. Literally, one of my favorite all time books I’ve ever read is called The Great Believers. It is fiction about the AIDS epidemic in that time frame. And I think the author, Rebecca McKay, did a really good job of getting the facts right from what the other stuff that I’ve read but plug for that book. It’s so amazing. And if anyone wants a good fictional story about that time, it’s amazing.

Mark: And if anybody wants some more like Nonfictional or if you’re not a big reader, there’s also a movie. But if you pick up and the band played on that book changed my life.

Tracy: Is that non-fiction?

Mark: It is not. Oh, did.

Tracy: You read that?

Susan: No, but I’ve heard of it.

Tracy: You shook your head like you.

Susan: I was.

Mark: Familiar. It’s so much nonfiction that I couldn’t finish the book because by the end of it, it gets down into like the chemical breakdown of HIV and like, the molecules. And like all this, I’m not very sciency, but the first part of the book changed my life. It was the first book that I read after coming out of the closet because I kind of wanted to figure out like, where do we come from? What did we go through? Like, what were our struggles? I felt so I feel like that’s so important when you come out of the closet is to do a little bit of research of where the queer community has come, how hard we’ve had to fight, because nowadays you have these 12-, 13-year-olds coming out of the closet. They have rights, they’re on TV. You know, it’s not as difficult as it once was, but you have to understand how difficult it was for the people who came before you to give you these rights and opportunities that you have today.

Tracy: So, Mark, on that note, you are in a leadership organization called New Leaders Council, of which I’m an alum and I love this organization, part of the organization and the leadership, what do we call it, the year that we’re in it?

Mark: The cohort.

Tracy: Yeah. We put together a capstone, a project. Do you want to talk about your project?

Mark: Yeah, sure. My capstone project kind of worked a lot throughout the six month institute. At first I was gung ho on starting my own nonprofit and just saying It doesn’t exist, so I’m going to do it and blah, blah, blah, blah. And then what’s great about New Leaders Council is you get a lot of feedback from the people around you, and a lot of the feedback was like, Well, if you don’t have like a mathematical mind and you know, are really rip roaring and wanting to run a business, maybe you shouldn’t start a nonprofit community or nonprofit company and maybe just get involved with one and see if you can implement some change. So my capstone project is working with queer youth and it all revolves around coming out and coming out safely and authentically and providing these young people with resources to do that. I am planning on and have been working with out Nebraska. I have found out that a LGBTQ+ community center is in the works here in Omaha. The closest community center we have is 5 hours away. So my project is an ongoing project to work without Nebraska to see if I can work on getting some queer youth development programs going into that new space when it gets up and running.

Tracy: That’s so awesome.

Mark: Yeah. So it’s, it’s really about having a space for these kids to congregate, to see themselves in themselves and people around them. And young queer people need good adult queer mentors. The queer community is is a great community, but it can also be very damaging and dangerous. And when you’re a queer young person, the first thing when you when you come out is you want to gravitate towards those types of people. But the people that you’re gravitating, gravitating towards, just because you share an affinity that you’re queer doesn’t necessarily mean those are the best individuals that you should be hanging out with. Also, different types of family situations coming out isn’t easy. So if we could provide resources working with those types of youth and saying, Stick it out, let’s get you a scholarship to Colorado somewhere so we can get you out of this situation. And so I just want to I want to ensure that no one has the coming out experience that I had to go through and that they know that if they’re not accepted at home, they can be accepted in this space. And to keep coming to this space.

Tracy: That’s amazing. I’m excited. We’re going to I’m attending the capstone presentation, so I’m excited to. Do you hear about that? So one thing that we want to talk about since it is Pride Month. Heartland Pride is celebrating Pride in July. So we’re going to do it for like two months. And in Nebraska. So the Heartland Pride, the parade is July 15th and the festival is July 16th. So the parade is in the old market on July 15th and the festival is at.

Susan: Well, they’re doing them on different days this year.

Tracy: Yeah. Maybe it’s the youth is it the youth parade that’s on the 15th. So the festival is on the 16th with the parade back to back usually. So we will be at the festival. Last year we had such a fun booth and I’m sure we will do something just as fun this year, so come and check out Hightower Rough Law. We also as a firm support all things queer community. We represent folks in same sex marriages doing divorces adoptions. We love doing all all adoptions all day long name change from we get a lot of referrals from the transgender clinic in Nebraska and Omaha.

Mark: It’s my favorite thing to do.

Tracy: Name changes. Yes yeah name changes are such a for transgender folks is such a little piece that makes such a huge difference.

Mark: It’s a big page to turn.

Tracy: Yeah, yeah. To have the name that corresponds with the identity that you choose. And then obviously estate planning and immigration can have some implications to in the queer community and we support all of that in our office.

Mark: So one of the reasons I’m here.

Tracy: We love that you’re here. Thank you for this podcast.

Mark: Yeah, for sure. Thank you for inviting me. I hope I had something. I hope I was queer enough.

Tracy: You are enough, Mark. All the things. And we’re going to have you back on for another episode of Gay Pride Month, and we’re going to talk about the initialisms of the LGBTQIA.

Mark: Plus and how that.

Susan: Evolves. Yes.

Mark: Okay.

Tracy: Sounds great. See you later.

Mark: Thanks, Mark. Thank you.

Outro: Thank you for listening to the Lady Lawyer League. Be sure to like and subscribe anywhere you get your podcasts. If you would like to learn more about our firm, visit us at We’ll see you next week.

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