SAVE executive director terminated amid scrutiny of attendees at LGBTQ gala

Tony Lima fired after alleged attackers of man, ex-boyfriend attend gala

By Sanela Sabovic - Reporter, Dawn Jorgenson - Graham Media Group

MIAMI BEACH, Fla. - SAVE has terminated its former executive director, Tony Lima, who has been under intense scrutiny this past week.

It's been a tough year for Rene Chalarca. He and his then-boyfriend were victims of a brutal hate crime in Miami Beach last April. Four men were caught on camera beating the pair. The attack left the former couple badly injured.

"Everything changed for me that day," Chalarca said.

Chalarca said he's tried his best to move on from that painful day, but last week, he was forced to relive it again, when he found out that his alleged attackers -- Juan Lopez, Luis Piovet, Adonis Diaz and Pablo Romo-Figuero -- attended the Champions of Equality gala, organized by SAVE, an organization dedicated to protecting LGBTQ rights. The men were sitting just feet away from the stage.

"I was putting all my work together again," Charlaca said. "I was doing all the things that I love and then this shows up and everything was, you know, down again."

Lima fell under intense scrutiny after he apparently praised the men and welcomed them to the event, but it was a comment Lima allegedly made about the men being "wrongfully accused" that upset many, including Chalarca. Those comments and reactions are what ultimately led to him being terminated from the organization.

"Everything changed for me that day," Rene Charlaca says of an attack that left him and his ex-boyfriend badly injured.

"I don't remember saying 'wrongfully accused.' I don't speak in those terms," Lima said. "I'm not an attorney. But if that's what I said in haste, I apologize for that."

Lima has since issued an apology via a video posted on social media, claiming he used bad judgment. Chalarca said he's been forced to relive the attack and doesn’t believe Lima's apology is sincere. 

"(He's) totally sending a wrong message -- not only to the gay community, but to, you know, like, the entire nation," Chalarca said of Lima. "'You can do whatever you want -- you can hit people, you can kill people, and don't worry, we’re going to protect you instead of protecting the real victims.'" 

The organization issued an apology and said it is investigating how the accused came to be at the event in the first place. 

"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," SAVE said in a statement.

Chalarca's former boyfriend, the other victim, said the apology also doesn't seem real and that this is a slap in the face.

Copyright 2019 by WPLG Local10.com - All rights reserved.