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An LGBTQ group honored accused gay bashers at a high dollar gala

Rene Chalarca with facial injuries after the attack
Rene Chalarca suffered a broken facial bone in the attack last year. The alleged attackers were honored by an LGBTQ organization.Photo: NBC

Four men accused of brutally beating a gay couple for holding hands at Pride in Miami last year were honored at a big money gala for a local LGBTQ organization.

SAVE touts itself as “South Florida’s longest serving organization dedicated to protecting people who are lesbian, gay, bisexuals, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) against discrimination.”

But at their Champions of Equality Gala two weeks ago, SAVE honored four men known for anything but protecting LGBTQ people: Juan Carlos Lopez, Luis M. Alonso Piovet, Adonis Diaz, and Pablo Reinaldo Romo-Figueroa.

The four alleged assailants
Miami-Dade Corrections

The men are accused of beating Rene Chalarca and Dimitri Lugonov, a gay couple, at Miami Beach Pride last year, as well as a bystander, Helmut Muller Estrada, who tried to help protect the couple. The attack was caught on security video and one of the victims said that they were shouting anti-gay slurs in Spanish.

Related: Unrepentant attackers in brutal Miami Pride hate crime surrender to police

All three victims had to be rushed to the hospital. Chalarca suffered a broken facial bone and lost his job because he was in too much pain to be able to work.

All four men who were honored at the SAVE gala are facing hate crimes charges and could be sentenced to up to 30 years in prison for their roles in the attack. All have pled not guilty.

So why would an LGBTQ organization honor people like this? SAVE Executive Director said at the gala that the four had been “wrongly accused.”

According to South Florida Gay News (SFGN), the crowd applauded as the men were honored.

Lima said that they have been doing volunteer work with SAVE for the past six months.

“More details have come to light to show that this was not a hate driven crime,” Lima told SFGN about the attack that was caught on video.

“Basically they were defending themselves,” he said. While it seems unlikely that a gay couple at Pride would pick a fight with four straight men and that security cameras only caught the part of the fight where the four men were defending themselves, Lima said that he doesn’t want to jump on the “bandwagon” of accusing them of a crime.

“It’s very easy to jump on a bandwagon when you feel your community is being attacked,” Lima said. “It’s important to look deeper into things when there is a shadow of a doubt.”

The state prosecutor’s office disagrees with Lima’s assessment.

“We are aggressively pursuing the prosecution of the case,” a spokesperson said.

“We believe we have sufficient evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt the charges against them: Aggravated Battery with Prejudice/Weapon or Bodily Harm, Aggravated Battery, Assault with Prejudice/or on Religious Institution Grounds, and Assault. If that were not the case, the charges would have been dropped in the past.”

“The defendants in the case are not wrongly accused,” he said.

Even if Lima is right and they were wrongly accused, since when is “maybe didn’t beat up a gay couple for holding hands” a reason to honor straight people at an LGBTQ gala? Is there no one in South Florida who’s doing anything more important to advance LGBTQ equality?

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