August 06, 2018 10:30 PM

WARNING: The following contains major spoilers.

Just days after the premiere of The Bachelorette, winner Garrett Yrigoyen was immersed in a social media firestorm.

News broke that Yrigoyen, 29, who was then secretly newly engaged to Becca Kufrin, had previously liked a series of highly inflammatory Instagram posts, including some that were racist and homophobic.

“It was tough,” Yrigoyen tells PEOPLE exclusively of the public outcry and fans of the show labeling him a bigot and worse. “I didn’t mean to offend anyone.”

Becca Kufrin and Garrett Yrigoyen
Aaron Smith

In a statement released May 31, Yrigoyen, who got engaged to Kufrin on the season finale of the show, referred to the likes as “mindless taps,” a notion he stands by today.

“Just because I liked it, doesn’t necessarily mean that I supported it,” he says in this week’s issue of PEOPLE, on stands Friday. “I was raised in a very open-minded family that was accepting to everybody. We’re very non-judgmental. I’m genuinely sincere.”

When the posts were uncovered, Kufrin was quick to defend Yrigoyen.

“People have been saying really terrible things about [Garrett], but that’s not who he is,” she says now. “At his core, he’s a good guy. We’ve all made mistakes and done things that aren’t perfect. But all I could ask for is somebody who owns up to what they’ve done and who apologizes and wants to grow. And that’s what he’s done.”

  • For more on Becca and Garrett, pick up this week’s issue of PEOPLE, on stands Friday

And when it comes to their relationship, Yrigoyen gives credit to a strong foundation for their ability to get past the hard times.

“We started a foundation of being honest and open and transparent,” he says. “Anything that’s come about, or just dealing with anything, that’s how we address it — head on. It makes our relationship so much stronger, and we continue to grow together.”

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