Remembering Tony Carroll, Pioneering Houston Therapist and Political Activist

By | January 21, 2016

TonyCarrol-5Jeff Hoffman had been to therapists before, but never one like Tony Carroll. “Many therapists, you sit down, you talk to them, and they’re fairly prescriptive about what you need to do,” Hoffman said. “Tony was different. In the first session or two I was like, jeez, what’s going on here? He just kind of sat there and interjected things from time to time. I was like, am I just talking to myself?”

Carroll, who passed away on December 29 at the age of 74, was Houston’s leading gay therapist for more than three decades, and a powerful advocate for the LGBT community. Although he also saw women and heterosexual men, he made his reputation working with gay men at a time when there were few such therapists in the city. Not only could he relate to his patients, but his idiosyncratic method seemed to work wonders for them.

“I have several friends who went to him as well, and they pretty much all had the same experience,” Hoffman said. “He would give you a few little nuggets during the session, but then after you left it was like a bomb went off in your head. You ended up with all these revelations, almost like a high, for hours afterward. He was hoping to steer your thoughts and just get the right amount of ideas and information out there so you could connect the dots. It was pretty amazing.” For the past 14 years, the readers of OutSmart magazine have voted Carroll Houston’s “Gayest and Greatest” psychotherapist.

Greg Jeu, OutSmart’s publisher and editor, first met Carroll in the 1980s, when a different magazine he was then editing ran a profile of Carroll. The two later became friends and worked together for countless LGBT causes. “He was very likeable, very down to earth, and very generous—with his financial support, and with his compliments and kindness” Jeu remembered. “Any time we had a friend who was going through some crisis, he would offer his services for free to help them.”

Over the years Carroll advised, campaigned for, and donated generously to political candidates including Annise Parker, Sue Lovell, Chris Bell, and Ellen Cohen. The house on Woodhead Street that he shared with his husband, Bruce Smith, was built for entertaining. “I don’t think there’s a cause or a candidate they supported that they ever turned down to host an event,” Hoffman said. “And they did it beautifully and with grace.”

When he wasn’t seeing patients or stumping for his latest cause, Carroll, a classically trained musician, loved to play the piano. He also enjoyed attending performances at the Houston Grand Opera, another beneficiary of his generosity. Every year he and his husband made a pilgrimage to New York to see the Metropolitan Opera.

In the last years of his life, Carroll devoted himself to the plight of Houston’s homeless gay teenagers, helping to found and lead the group Homeless Gay Kids–Houston (HGKH). He even recruited his friend and former patient Jeff Hoffman to serve as the chairman of the group’s board.

“There was a period after Tony came out [in college] when he and his parents were somewhat estranged,” Hoffman said. “He and his family reconciled later, but he knew what that sting felt like. When you talk about these kids who are 13 and up, it’s so isolating and so hard. He was just incensed that more was not being done for them, and he wanted to make sure that we did something. He was always pushing us to, as he used to say, ‘Get s**t done.’ He loved that phrase.”

The memorial service for Tony Carroll will take place on Saturday, January 23 from 4-6 p.m. at Bradshaw Center, 1724 West Alabama St. In lieu of flowers or gifts, Bruce urges contributions in Tony’s name to Homeless Gay Kids–Houston, The Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund, Lambda Legal, or to the progressive charity of your choice.

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