A gay man was knocked unconscious and left with severe spinal injuries in ahate crime that has left him deeply shaken and requiring surgery.
Two men reportedly targeted Gersson Saavedra in Barrio Logan, an artistic neighbourhood of San Diego, California, on 12 September.
He told NBC’s San Diego affiliate that he was strolling along the pier by Cesar Chavez park at around 9:30pm when his night spent with friends slipped into violence.
“When we were leaving the event I fell behind my friends, Martin and Sunny,” Saavedra recalled.
“My friend said that these two guys asked me for a lighter,” he said, adding that the men began abruptly hurling homophobic slurs at him.
“By the time they like turned around, I was getting, you know, punched,” said Saavedra. “I was basically hitting the floor at that point.”
As the men set upon him, Saavedra fell unconscious only to awake in hospital hours later. He had suffered injuries to his spinal cord, a fractured nose and a shattered eye socket.
He must now undergo surgery on his nose and will be unable to work for at least six weeks.
“First thing I remember when I woke on the hospital bed is that one of the doctors asked me if I was gay,” Saavedra said.
“I was like, that’s such a weird question to ask, but I said of course. And he was like: ‘Okay, you were a victim of a hate crime’.
“You hear about these things like happening in the gay community, but you know, you can never kind of prepare or expect something like this to happen to you.”
San Diego Police confirmed that the incident is being investigated as a hate crime, coming at a time where crime fueled by hatred towards the LGBT+ community has soared by 15 per cent in the last year, according to data from California’s Attorney General’s Office.
“It’s easy to kind of blame yourself, think could have prevented this, maybe by being less of yourself, but I would definitely say don’t let anyone or even this type of situation dim your light,” Saavedra said.
“Always, you know, just be yourself.”