A Florida-based LGBTI organization is investigating after its executive director praised suspects of an anti-gay hate crime in a recent Pride gala speech. They also placed the director on paid leave.
SAVE is a pro-advocacy non-profit operating out of Miami. It held its SAVE Champions of Equality Gala on 14 June, which is when Tony Lima, the executive director, made his comments.
While speaking to the audience, Lima said four men — Juan Carlos Lopez, Luis Alonso Piovet, Adonis Diaz and Pablo Reinaldo Romo-Figueroa — had been ‘wrongly accused’ of a hate crime at last year’s Miami Pride.
The four men reportedly attacked a gay male couple after they spotted the couple holding hands. All four men surrendered through an attorney and face up to 30 years in prison. They pleaded not guilty.
The men also attended the gala where they received an acknowledgement from Lima.
How this happened
According to the Miami Herald, Lima said the men came to attend the gala after their parents called SAVE, asking how their sons could get involved.
Lima added the men did all recently volunteer. He also said they individually bought tickets to the gala, either themselves or through their parents.
Many also accused the organization for allowing the men to attend. Board members in attendance reportedly did not know the men were also present.
‘On behalf of the board, we recognize we lacked the proper processes in place to best ensure this type of incident never occurs,’ SAVE said in a statement.
‘We deeply regret not having taken more precaution to protect the community accordingly and are committed not only to finding answers, but effectively securing the safety and well-being of the LGBTQ+ population in South Florida as we move forward.’
They added they have received ‘many calls from the community’. In response, they placed Lima on paid administrative leave to ‘conduct an objective and thorough review of the events that took place’.
In a recorded video posted to Facebook, Lima addressed his comments and what transpired at the gala.
He apologized for not consulting the board before acknowledging the board. He also said he didn’t remember claiming the men were ‘wrongly accused’, but did not outright deny that he made such a comment.
‘Towards the end of the program, I welcomed them into the space and said that it’s good that they’re trying to support the community and trying to really rehabilitate themselves and really be able to give back to a community that they’d done harm to,’ he concluded.
‘That was my mistake. I did that on my own.’
Many people, including in the comments of Lima’s video, are now asking him to resign.