Aodhán Benson was targeted in a suspected homophobic attack on Bold Street, Liverpool, last weekend (July 10).

The attack took place outside a local Tesco where a group of men started calling the 24-year-old homophobic slurs before becoming physically violent.

The Liverpool Hope University graduate told the Liverpool Echo that he and his friends were socialising before a man took issues with Benson using the term “love” to refer to him.

The situation escalated after the attacker punched Benson and the Belfast native tried to defend himself and two more men joined in violently beating him.

Benson told the Liverpool Echo that he feared for his life: “If this is what being gay means, then I don’t want to be gay. Literally, if this is what my sexuality results in, then I’ll not be gay then, if you just leave me alone,” he said.

“Because I’m only 24, so what happens if it happens when I’m 34, 44, 54. How many more times will it happen to me? Like, why are people so horrible? It’s just sick.”

Benson’s friends supported him during the situation giving him time to escape and take photos of the attackers and his injuries before going to the hospital.

The attack left the graduate with a bloody lip, black eyes, a swollen nose and a wide cut above his eye.

Detective Inspector Sean Kelly-Martland addressed the attack in a statement: “It’s hugely concerning that someone has been subjected to homophobic abuse and assault in our city centre. To be attacked in such a manner is despicable, and we’re determined to find those responsible and remove them from our streets.

“Due to the abhorrent verbal abuse the victims were subjected to, we’re treating this as a hate crime. Merseyside Police stands against hate crime in all its forms and will not tolerate people being targeted in this manner because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.”

Since the attack, two arrests have been made following witnesses coming forward and the use of CCTV footage.

A 43-year-old man from Liverpool has been arrested on suspicion of Section 47 Assault and a 33-year-old man, from Sefton, on suspicion of Section 47 Assault and possession of a Class A drug.

This is not the first horrific suspected homophobic attack to occur in Liverpool. Last month, Josh Ormrod was viciously beaten in Liverpool’s Concert Square.

The incident occurred after Ormrod danced outside the club with a friend, which led to his attacker hurling homophobic slurs and leaving him “battered and bruised”.

Recalling the incident on social media, Ormrod said a “complete stranger attacked me based purely on the fact that I am not straight” and that the attack was “unprovoked and completely random”.

Police confirmed a 26-year-old man from Bolton was arrested on suspicion of assault while the incident is investigated further.

To ensure the safety of the LGBTQ+ community, High visibility officers have been stationed in Liverpool’s Pride Quarter to prevent any further attacks from occurring.

“After a number of worrying incidents over the last month, we want our LGBT+ community to be reassured that we stand with them: we are committed to protecting them, and we will do whatever we can to bring offenders to justice,” Chief Inspector Col Rooney said in a statement.

Related: Cardiff student violently beaten in a suspected homophobic hate crime