A trailblazing gay Houston therapist and beloved activist – one half of a couple known as "Dental and Mental" – has died, unleashing an outpouring of emotion for a man who opened his Montrose home for years to support LGBT causes, elected officials and gay teens.
Tony Carroll died this week, though few details about what happened have been made public. Outsmart announced his death on Tuesday afternoon.
The pair – Carroll a therapist and Smith a dentist – shared offices in a Montrose bungalow. Friends called the pair "Mental and Dental," a nickname they embraced in their longstanding advertising with Outsmart. Readers of the magazine named Carroll among its "Gayest & Greatest" again this year, an award Carroll has received since 2003.
It's one of many honors Carroll collected over more than three decades as a therapist. He established a practice in 1983 in Montrose when few others would counsel LGBT clients, making it the oldest LGBT psychotherapy practice in Houston. In August, Carroll received the 2015 Lifetime Achievement Award by the Texas chapter of the National Association of Social Workers, according to Outsmart.
In late August, Houston therapist Tony Carroll was awarded the 2015 Lifetime Achievement Award by the Texas chapter of the National Association of Social Workers. This award is presented each year to a social worker who has demonstrated repeated outstanding achievements, made contributions of lasting impact, demonstrated outstanding creativity, and received recognition beyond the social-work profession. A trailblazing psychotherapist, Carroll has provided culturally sensitive, compassionate care for LGBT individuals since the 1970s. He has worked extensively with AIDS Foundation Houston, the Houston GLBT Political Caucus, the Houston chapter of Log Cabin Republicans, the Houston Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce, the Association for Family and Community Integrity, and the Montrose Counseling Center. Carroll has also been voted as Best Therapist in OutSmart’s Gayest & Greatest Readers’ Choice Awards for almost a decade.
Carroll and Smith have opened their home for charity fundraisers, political candidates and more. In July, they hosted plaintiffs from the Prop 8 case in California. In March, it was cocktails and conversations about helping homeless LGBT teens. In 2013, the pair hosted a fundraiser for gay former District Court Judge Steven Kirkland, an event that attracted Mayor Annise Parker, whom they campaigned to help become the first openly gay mayor of a major U.S. city. Not bad for the former Log Cabin Republicans.
Carroll and Smith have also hosted holiday parties for the Houston GLBT Political Caucus and PFLAG. The couple also funded a scholarship for PFLAG-HATCH Youth Scholarship Foundation.
“Our community has the resources and the ability to influence the November 2014 election to our favor, finally winning true equality throughout Texas,” says Tony Carroll, an openly gay Houston business owner and community leader. “On the other hand, we can become distracted, divided, and disgruntled while arguing over the location of the Pride parade. I prefer drawing on our history of success by putting aside our differences, uniting, and directing our unequaled energy, creativity, activism, volunteerism, and incomparable drive for equality toward a huge win once and for all.”
Carroll, from small town Arkansas, studied music at Hendrix College in Conway, Ark., where he was engaged to a woman before coming out and dating a male vocalist in a musical trio for which he played keyboard. In 1968, Carroll started his career as a choral and music teacher before turning to therapy and researching long-term gay couples during graduate school at the University of Houston, according to Wikipedia.
Carroll met Smith in 1995 during a Log Cabin Republican Convention, though the couple renounced their ties to the gay Republican group in 2004 with a banner that read, "Fed-Up Republicans. Vote Democrat." They went on to support several progressive candidates, including Parker, City Council member Ellen Cohen and Chris Bell. The former City Council and U.S. House member tapped the men as his liaisons to gay Houston during his mayoral campaign earlier this year.
Carroll has also held leadership posts with scores of mental health organizations and has served as a clinical advisory committee member for the Montrose Center since the 1980s. It's part of his outgoing personality, he told Montrose District in March.
In part, this attention reflects Carroll’s ebullient personality.
“I’m pretty unusual for a therapist because I’m so extroverted,” he admits, stepping away from the organ and settling on a chair in his lavish living room. This room, in fact the whole house, was designed to hold spectacular parties. The glossy chairs and tables are Federal and Georgian antiques, gathered during jaunts to England. Though the house is new, its classical moldings suggest an era of village artisans and country manors. The salmon-and-bark colored paint comes from a 300-year-old palette used by British aristocracy; the shade appears at Buckingham Palace.
Carroll’s exuberance is just one element of what makes his clients devoted. In appearance, he is ordinary enough: youthful for a 73-year-old, bald, preppy in khakis and blue Oxford shirt. Carroll is relaxing to be around. He is droll, casual, amusingly profane. But when he speaks a certain charisma surfaces. And when he describes what he sees in practice, his insight can be searing.
“What I hear about from virtually every man I work with, gay and straight,” Carroll says, “is profound loneliness.”
Carroll also explained that three factors deeply impacted his life – "the early taste of privilege, the racial prejudice of the South, and my sexual orientation.” Via the Montrose District:
Early in life, Carroll was imprinted with confusion and horror at the experience of African Americans in his Arkansas town. ”Although the social structure was rigid in the 1940s and 1950s, I became increasingly aware of the close relationships between our extended family and our many African-American employees,” Carroll says in the essay. “After all, my cousins, brother and I were looked after and reared by the black women who ran each of our houses. Their husbands worked in our lumber mills.” The Carrolls’ own housekeeper, Celestine, stayed with the family for 40 years. Tony Carroll worshiped her.
His father, a Navy officer, told the boy that with privilege came responsibility. But Carroll learned that respect was a hollow substitute for equality. “On a blazing hot summer day, we stopped for lunch and bathroom break. Celestine was denied access to either the restaurant or the restroom,” Carroll says. “It made no difference that her husband, Levi, was an infantryman fighting in Germany at that very moment.”
When he was a sophomore in college, Carroll found a name for his own ”differentness.” A friend mentioned being married to a gay man, and after the conversation Carroll read The Sixth Man by Jess Stearn. “My world shattered,” he says, “when I realized I was ‘a queer.'” A year later, when Carroll fell in love with a tenor whom he accompanied in his college music program, the fear he had only witnessed in other marginalized people became his daily experience.
When Carroll’s parents found out about the relationship, they disowned him. His boyfriend’s parents discovered them, too, and pulled the young man out of college. He returned after a year, and the two struggled to keep their relationship alive in secret.
”It was my descent from privileged to outcast,” Carroll says, ”that informed my life’s journey caring for others.”
In March, Victory in Houston – the local chapter of the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund – honored Carroll and Smith, who were also celebrated with a mayoral proclamation.
Since the announcement of his death, friends have turned Carroll's Facebook page into a makeshift memorial.
[image courtesy Christopher Bown via Victory in Houston]