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Meet Gary Howell of Center for Psychological Growth

Today we’d like to introduce you to Gary Howell

Hi Gary, please kick things off for us with an introduction to yourself and your story.
I am a gay clinical psychologist, LGBT expert, professor in a clinical psychology doctoral program, and life-long advocate. My advocacy and passion for the field really goes back to my undergraduate experience. I graduated from Austin College, a liberal arts program in north Texas. I met Jeanne White at an honor society conference and saw the struggles her son Ryan went through before his death, which sparked my love of advocacy. It also led me to volunteering with a local HIV/AIDS service organization that served three fairly large counties in north Texas. I created an internship for volunteers to serve as outreach and prevention workers where they would educate the community and provide HIV testing. I served many roles before becoming the program coordinator for a Ryan White III planning grant to make our very small agency an integrated care center to provide comprehensive care to HIV-impacted patients. During this time, I was very involved on campus with LGBT groups and led the campus group that provided knowledge and understanding to our student body about HIV/AIDS. I was living on my college campus when Matthew Shepard was murdered. The day his death was announced was a solemn day that angered and motivated me to find my voice.

As I prepared for graduate school, I stepped away from the work that led me to where I am now. I always knew I would work with the sexual and gender minority communities but had to gain the experience necessary to become a clinical psychologist. I graduated from Adler University in Chicago and found myself immersed in working with my community once again. I had amazing LGBT mentors and pioneers in the field of LGBT psychology who supported and encouraged my involvement in professional leadership roles. Before I finished my postdoctoral training, I was already a voting member and chair of the Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity committee for the Illinois Psychological Association. This experience launched me into involvement with the Society for the Psychology of Sexual Orientation and Gender Diversity, which is the LGBT division within the American Psychological Association. I served several leadership roles in the division and am the immediate Past-President of the division. During my presidential year, I was given a very privileged platform to address an issue very near and dear to me. My presidential initiative was to create a formal task force with the American Psychological Association to address the violence against transgender women of color in the United States. We are actively working on next steps now.

Today, I primarily work with sexual and gender minority patients, many of whom identify as trans or nonbinary. I choose to use my positionality to help amplify voices that often have no seat at the table. I also give back to my community by providing free group therapy to trans youth, trans adults, and their parents. Since 2015, I had a vision of starting a nonprofit to focus on research, training, education, and wellness for the LGBT community in the Tampa Bay area. That eventually happened in late 2017, when I approached a couple of my former students to form the Institute for LGBT Health and Wellbeing. I also started a podcast (Queer Folx Megaphone Podcast) in June 2020 that has been on hiatus since the pandemic roared on but will be reinvigorated next month. The focus of my podcast is to amplify gender and sexual minority voices. As a gay, White psychologist, I am keenly aware of my privilege and try every day to use it for good in this chaotic world where anti-Black racism, racism, sexism, cissexism, and bigotry are rampant.

We all face challenges, but looking back would you describe it as a relatively smooth road?
Overall, my journey has been good. Most of my challenges came before I was an out gay college student in a rural Texas town. While I have certainly experienced my share of bigots spewing gay slurs as an adult, bullying as a teen, and being the token gay in some of my graduate courses, I attribute my success to resiliency and determination to succeed and escape the very place that was designed to hold me back.

Great, so let’s talk business. Can you tell our readers more about what you do and what you think sets you apart from others?
I started my own clinical practice in Chicago in 2010 and moved to Tampa in 2011. As one of very few openly gay psychologists in Tampa, I quickly filled up my case load and had to expand in order to keep up and continue offering services to an evolving community. I eventually transitioned from my solo practice and started my group practice that continues to evolve. My practice, Center for Psychological Growth, is centered on affirming practice for the sexual and gender minority (LGBTQ+) community. While I am an expert in this area, we do see all people in our group. We are all affirming providers who believe in centering and amplifying marginalized voices. When I first got started in Tampa, I was working a lot with gay men who were coming out while being married to their wives for years, if not decades. As I became more involved in the Hillsborough community, I started seeing more transgender people in my practice. I work with individuals, couples, and families. As an affirming practice, we are proud of our work with consensually nonmonogamous relationships as well. I have worked with more than 200 transgender patients since 2011 to facilitate their gender confirming journeys. I personally do not believe in the historical gatekeeping roles of mental health professionals when it comes to supporting transgender rights (surgery, hormones, name changes, etc.). I am proud that my practice has offered FREE support groups for transgender youth/adults and a support group for the parents of transgender people for the last five years. My vision of a nonprofit that focuses on wellness, education, and training came from this work. Thanks to all the patients I have served here since 2011, the Institute for LGBT Health and Wellbeing became a reality and one I hope to see continue to expand and grow in the area. We are looking for a larger space in Ybor City to call our permanent home and hope to secure some local philantrhopic support to make that happen this year.

What do you like best about our city? What do you like least?
I like that Tampa has become a city that values diversity. While there is still a long way to go, Tampa is certainly moving in the right direction. Many cities do a great job with making LGBTQ+ areas more visible and would love to see that happen in the Ybor area for sure. I was involved in some planning when I first moved to Tampa but it never gained traction to create rainbow crosswalks or a monument/statue to commemorate the LGBTQ+ struggle for equality. Overall, I am happy with Tampa and what it has to offer; however, I would like to see more effort by local government to address racial and LGBT health care disparities.

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