‘Brazil is very homophobic. In Dublin I feel like I belong’

Anderson Leahy arrived from Brazil in 2013, and married his Irish boyfriend three years later

Anderson Leahy, from Brazil, with his husband James at home in Cabra, Dublin. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Anderson Leahy, from Brazil, with his husband James at home in Cabra, Dublin. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

 

Anderson Leahy used to never feel comfortable holding hands with another man in public. When he was 17, he and his boyfriend would sometimes risk a quick hug in the local mall. However, Leahy felt deeply uncomfortable about what might happen if they were spotted embracing.

Brazil is a very homophobic country. I never held hands with my boyfriend on the streets. I had some friends who did but I never would. I was afraid of the violence, of being beaten. I’ve always been very shy and I didn’t want people pointing at me and saying ‘there’s the gay walking down the street’.”

Leahy (born Ribeiro) grew up in the state of Paraíba in north-eastern Brazil. His parents separated when he was seven years old and he remembers spending many evenings at home alone with his sister as his mother worked long hours so she could feed her children and pay the bills. “We lived in a poor-ish neighbourhood in the city of Joao Pessoa. My mother worked 9-5 but she had to leave the house really early to get into the city and got home about 8pm. I remember sometimes we would go to the beach but we didn’t have the money to take the bus so we would walk miles and miles to get there. And there was a pizza place right beside our home. We’d go whenever there was money.”

Leahy also spent a few years living with his grandmother in the countryside in his early teens. “I don’t have any friends now from my youth. We moved house a few times and I had to keep moving school. It was difficult to create roots.”

‘Never friends’

When he was 11, Leahy’s mother met a man and the couple moved in together. “I never got along with my stepfather. I didn’t know back then that I was gay but he knew; he could see I was a more feminine boy and he didn’t like that. We were polite to each other and we spoke when we lived in the same house but we were never friends.”

After school, Leahy began a degree in hospitality. As time passed he became increasingly interested in leaving his home and moving abroad. “I had this feeling that if I stayed in Joao Pessoa I wouldn’t be happy. I wanted to be more free, to be who I am. I know it sounds very cliched but it’s true. I felt that if I left the country I could be happier.”

In June 2013, after saving money during his degree, Leahy moved to Dublin on a study visa and began an English course in the city centre. He found a place to stay in a house with five other people where he could sleep on the floor and secured a part-time job which just about covered the cost of rent and food.

Two weeks after arriving in Ireland he went along to the Dublin Pride parade in the city centre. “I didn’t march but I went to Merrion Square and it was amazing. It was so full of life and everyone was so happy. People weren’t afraid.” It was around this time that Leahy first met an Irish man named James through the gay dating app Grindr. The couple began dating and a few months later moved into an apartment together.

Two years later, in May 2015, Leahy accompanied his Irish boyfriend to the polling station as he cast his vote in the same-sex marriage referendum. “I didn’t know at that time that I would be getting married here but I still found it very exciting to watch the campaign. We drove to Slane that evening to see James’ mother. He wanted to be with his family when the result came in because they’d always been so supportive of him.”

Support

Leahy’s mother in Brazil has also always supported her son since he came out to her about his sexuality aged 16. When he left in 2013 Leahy’s plan had been to spend six months in Ireland studying English and six months in Paris studying French before returning home. These plans changed after he met his boyfriend and Leahy was faced with the tough task of telling his mother he planned to stay in Ireland. “When I told her she asked ‘what’s wrong? Why don’t you want to come back?’ I told her I thought life would be better for me here and I could also help her and my sister with money. As a mother she knew at that point that her son had left forever.”

In 2016 the couple were married in a small ceremony in Cavan and last year they held a proper celebration surrounded by friends and family in Co Meath. They also travelled to Brazil where Leahy’s family held a big barbecue to celebrate the union. The couple now live in Cabra in north Dublin and Leahy works full time in KC Peaches. He visited his mother in Brazil earlier this year and hopes to make another trip next year to celebrate his 30th birthday.

Leahy is very grateful to his in-laws for welcoming him into the family. “It’s very hard to be away from your family and I have such a good relationship with my grandmother because we lived together. I think being around James’ mum made me feel more comfortable here. I said that in my wedding speech, that it was very important to have another family here.

“I don’t take for granted what I have now. When I first arrived I survived a few months with just bread and cheese from Tesco. Now we have a house and we can go on holidays a few times a year. I think what I’m feeling is relief that I feel safe here. First of all I have James and I know he’ll protect me no matter what. But also being able to have a job, finish work, go to a nice cafe, play with my cats and water my plants. I feel like I belong here now.”

We would like to hear from people who have moved to Ireland in the past 10 years. To get involved, email newtotheparish@irishtimes.com or tweet @newtotheparish