MIAMI – The executive director of a group dedicated to protecting LGBTQ rights is now apologizing after welcoming four men accused in a hate crime to the organization's Champions of Equality Gala.
"I understand that everybody is upset," Tony Lima said in a video posted on social media. "I understand that a lot of people are appalled."
The gala was held two weeks ago.
"I am sorry to the victims," Lima said. "I apologize that this is happening."
The four men who were welcomed to the gala are accused of beating up a gay couple on Miami Beach last April. The incident was caught on camera.
The victims said they were attacked after sharing a hug. They said the assailants were yelling gay slurs in Spanish.
Juan Lopez, Luis Alonso Piovet, Adonis Diaz and Pablo Romo-Figueroa were charged with aggravated battery committed with prejudice under Florida's hate crime enhancement law.
Lima said the accused wanted to get involved with his organization, so he offered them the ability to rehabilitate and volunteer.
The men bought their own tickets to the gala, Lima said.
Toward the end of it, Lima said he wanted the men to feel included, but it was a comment that created an uproar.
"I don't remember ever saying 'wrongfully accused,'" Lima said. “I don't speak in those terms. I'm not an attorney. But if that is what I said in haste, I apologize for that. … I wanted to give them the opportunity to make themselves better."