Lizzie Cernik – In the summer of 2010, Rainer was volunteering at an underground LGBTQ+ film festival in Jakarta. "I was born and raised in the city and had been part of the festival for a while," he says. "There are some anti-LGBTQ+ laws and a lot of prejudice towards gay people in Indonesia, so we never told the authorities exactly what we were showing when we asked for permissions."
During a screening at the Centre Culturel Francais (CCF), now known as the Institut Francais d'Indonesie, he noticed that another volunteer was having trouble getting the film to start. "I went to the control room and found Eka struggling to get the DVD player to work," he says. "I thought he was a hunk straight away." After Rainer helped him to get the film started, they began to chat. "He seemed really intelligent and sexy," says Eka. "I had a good first impression of him but I didn't expect it to turn into anything."
When the screening ended, they exchanged numbers. After sharing a few text messages over the following week, they arranged to meet for dinner at a hotel. "LGBTQ+ people can't date publicly in Indonesia, so meeting up was nerve-racking, but exciting at the same time," says Rainer. The pair immediately hit it off, but couldn't meet up again for several weeks. "He told me he was going to travel around Indonesia for a photography project," says Eka. "We stayed in touch through text messages for the month that he was away and we spoke on the phone a few times a day."
When Rainer returned, he immediately asked Eka if they could become an official couple. "I just said, yes, let's do it," says Eka. They spent the next few months going on regular dates to cinemas, concerts and cultural events around the city.
Although they loved spending time together, their relationship came with challenges. Being gay in Indonesia not only incurs hostility from the general public, but in some states it is punishable by flogging or prison terms. "We had underground groups where we could meet but it was dangerous as they were often infiltrated by extremist groups," says Rainer. "They somehow got my phone number and ID and I started receiving death threats." As anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric intensified, the couple feared for their safety. In 2011 they moved in together, pretending to be brothers. They were forced to continually change apartments when neighbours became suspicious about their relationship.
Despite the difficulties, they refused to let prejudice dent their relationship. In 2014, Rainer proposed. "I'd been in Singapore a few weeks before and he'd sent me a text saying, 'Hey babe, let's get married,'" laughs Eka. "I arrived home and he asked again with a cake and flower, and I said, 'Yes'." Two weeks later, the pair went on holiday to Canada, and decided to make things official. For legal reasons, their marriage certificate was posted from Ottawa back to Indonesia. "We were scared someone would open it and we'd go to prison," says Rainer. "Luckily it came straight to the apartment."
Persecution of LGBTQ+ people continued to worsen in Indonesia, so the couple decided to move. In 2016, they returned to Canada on Rainer's student visa. They applied for asylum, which was granted, and they now have Canadian citizenship. They live together in Toronto and both work for a non-profit LGBTQ+ health organisation. In two years, they plan to celebrate their 10-year wedding anniversary with their friends from Canada. "Our first wedding was quite lonely," says Rainer. "We are looking forward to having a party!"
Rainer admires his partner's persistence. "He's the fire and I'm the water. We're opposites, but his logical thinking helps me to decide things. He seems like he has a hard shell but there's a kindness inside." Eka says his husband reminds him that life is to be enjoyed. "For me, life was always about working, but Rainer is so easygoing. He's so patient with all my thoughts, worries and anxieties and always tells me things will be OK," he says. "I think we complement each other well and he always knows what to do for fun."