Ryan Turner, 24, from Deepdale, had tried to pull his angry friend away to avoid a conflict with the group, but was punched so hard by Brandon Forrester, 19, he was knocked unconscious and woke in hospital.
Forrester, who had been out celebrating his 18th birthday on July 13, 2019, admitted causing actual bodily harm to Ryan.
His nine-month term in a young offender’s institution was suspended for 18 months due to his previous good character, and the 18 month delay.
Forrester, of Eaves Lane, Chorley, caused part of the delay as he tried to argue the attack was not homophobic, leading to a trial of issue before magistrates, but the bench ruled it was a hate incident and committed his case to the higher court to be sentenced.
Ryan said: “I came out when I was 16 and it wasn’t an issue because I had very supportive family and friends.
“I’d say I only really found myself when I was 18 when I moved to Blackpool and worked in Canal Street in Manchester.
“Usually I would shrug things off. But the year this happened was the second time I had been physically attacked.
“I still don’t know how to feel, I really thought he wouldn’t have walked free from court.
“Part of me feels like everything I have been through for the last 18 months is for nothing, but then if my story helps someone else then it was worth it.”
Ryan, who works for Admiral Entertainments in Preston, had worked in Manchester Gay Village’s vibrant Canal Street area but says he lost a lot of confidence after suffering his injuries, and stopped modelling and doing drag work. He only resumed a few months ago.
He added: “He made me question myself a lot.
“I must have spent two months drinking every night, not sleeping, questioning if I wanted to be here and if I wanted to go down the path of being gay.”
But posting about his experience on Facebook provoked a mass outcry and show of support, with Ryan remarking to his followers: “Stand strong and love yourself, this isn’t gonna stop me from being fabulous! Being gay is ok.”
The Post featured Ryan’s ordeal in 2019, sparking a further show of support on social media, with Britain’s leading gay rights charity, Stonewall, saying the attack is an “upsetting reminder” that more needs to be done to protect the LGBT community.
Laura Russell, director of campaigns, policy and research at Stonewall, said: “This horrific attack is another upsetting reminder of how much work we still have to do.”
Ryan has been supported throughout by his mum, Gaynor Young.
In tears, she said: “He’s always been so confident but this really affected him.
“We found the court process very emotional.”
During the court hearing, prosecuting, Wayne Jackson, said Ryan had finished work at 11pm and met his friends to go to Preston.
“At around 6am they ended up at McDonalds on Friargate and noticed the group who shouted, amongst other things: ‘Gay is wrong’ and ‘You all need to die’,” he said.
Ryan ignored the abuse but one of his friends remonstrated with the men, and Ryan stepped in to pull her away.
He added: “He thought he was under the influence of something because he appeared to be very angry and grinding his teeth.”
The insults continued and the girl broke free of Ryan to challenge the man.
Ryan again pulled her away but as he walked away Forrester punched him and he fell to the ground.
Defending, Beverly Hackett handed the court several references and said: “ He has tried his best to demonstrate to the court lessons have been earned by him.
“He has returned home to live with his mother and has been pretty much in full time employment.”
Judge David Potter imposed nine months detention in a YOI, but suspended it for 18 months after agreeing Forrester’s actions were out of character.
He imposed 120 hours of unpaid work, £1,000 compensation, £250 costs and a rehabilitation activity, and added: “You have been committed to this court because the magistrates took the view that this was a homphobic attack and their powers were inadequate.
“It was a heavy blow, it sent him to the floor and left him with serious facial bruising and swelling. I have seen the photograph taken and they show horrendous facial injuries
“For your part you had been out celebrating your 18th birthday. What a way to spend your birthday - you clearly drunk far too much and you became involved in this horrendous attack.”