LGBTQ South Florida

SAVE fires executive who defended men accused of hate crime in gay-bashing incident

A Miami-based LGBTQ organization has fired its top administrator after he ignited a firestorm last month by defending four men accused of attacking a gay couple on Miami Beach following a gay pride parade.

Tony Lima, who has served as executive director of the non-profit SAVE since 2013, was fired Monday night by unanimous vote of the organization’s board of directors. The board, citing legal issues, declined to explicitly say why it chose to terminate his employment.

But the circumstances of Lima’s firing revolve around his decision during the organization’s June 14 Champions of Equality Gala at Hard Rock Stadium to celebrate the presence of a group of men who have been charged under Florida’s hate crime laws in the 2018 attack of Rene Chalarca and Dmitry Logunov.

In a story that put SAVE under pressure, the South Florida Gay News reported last week that Lima acknowledged the men and told the crowd that they’d been “wrongly accused.” Lima has said he doesn’t remember saying those words, but the account was confirmed Monday by former Miami Herald reporter Steve Rothaus, who was honored at the event for his decades of work in the gay community.

“We deeply regret the damage this has caused the LGBTQ+ community in South Florida, particularly during a time when the country was reflecting on the riots at Stonewall as well as the many other hardships and abuses that our community continues to endure,” the board said in a statement. “These actions have been incredibly upsetting to the community and most of all, hurtful to the victims of this terrible crime.”

Lima said in a statement to the Herald Monday evening that he was “severely disappointed,” and apologized to the victims of the attack.

“I made one mistake in my tenure of six years as the leader of SAVE and I’ve paid dearly for it,” he said. “Again, I apologize to the victims and to those in the community that were hurt by this. Hurting anyone was never my intention.”

He said he was proud of the strides made in the LGBTQ community during his time at SAVE, including the recent expansion of Miami-Dade County’s human rights ordinance to include the transgender community. “Those that have worked with me and know me will note that I have always led with love, integrity and pride.”

Lima did not address what happened last month in his statement. But he said in a public apology posted Friday to his Facebook page that the accused men — Juan Carlos Lopez, Luis Alonso Piovet, Adonis Diaz and Pablo Reinaldo Romo-Figueroa — had been volunteering at SAVE in an attempt at reconciliation, and he wanted to acknowledge their efforts. He said the men purchased tickets to the gala either themselves or through their parents.

The accused men have all pleaded not guilty. But the attack was caught on video and the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office insists it is prosecuting the case because it has the evidence needed to prove they are guilty “beyond a reasonable doubt.”

The SAVE board of directors said last week that it was unaware that the men would attend the gala and did not know that Lima intended to have them stand and be acknowledged. The board said it would review the circumstances surrounding their attendance and acknowledgment.

“We deeply apologize for the pain that has been reignited,” SAVE said in its statement. “The community can rest assured that this incident is not reflective of the mission of SAVE. As we move forward, we will work hard to regain the trust of our supporters, our allies, and the public at large.”