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SALT LAKE CITY -- Gay rights activists staged a silent protest Thursday evening outside the headquarters of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Salt Lake City in response to a Church leader's remarks that homosexuality is an immoral condition that can and should be overcome.
The sermon by President Boyd K. Packer of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles came Sunday during the Church's 180th Semiannual General conference.
In his remarks President Packer said, "Some suppose that they were pre-set and cannot overcome what they feel are inborn tendencies toward the impure and unnatural. Not so. Why would our Heavenly Father do that to anyone?"
Activists nationwide have called those remarks hurtful and say they ostracize gay Church members and can lead some to consider or attempt suicide.
Thursday night, Salt Lake City police officers estimate close to 600 people gathered in protest, but organizers say it was closer to thousands. Many were members of the gay and lesbian community. Most of them dressed in black, to make a statement of unity.
"We're normal people. There's nothing wrong with us," protester Liz Jones said. "We're not sick. We just have different choices than you, and I don't see how that should change us from any other person."
"I'm here because nobody should be discriminated against like this," said protester Tyler Christensen.
PrideinUtah blogger Eric Ethington organized the event through the social networking site Facebook.
"We want to tell men like Boyd K. Packer that we are tired of watching our children die. There are consequences to your words," Ethington said to the crowd to kick off the event. "You cannot change us, we cannot change ourselves and the more you try, the more dead bodies you leave behind. Stop."
Ethington defended President Packer's right to express his opinion, but said the Church's gay youth also need to hear a message of hope.
"We love you. You are beautiful. You are perfect just the way you are," he said, drawing cheers.
Some protestors said they came to support family members and friends who are gay.
"I was listening to General Conference with my family, who is all LDS, when it was happening; and I heard that speech and I wasn't angry. I wasn't mad, I was sad," protester Tiffany Rock-Ward said.
Church leaders issued a response to Thursday evening's protest, which reads: "Of course, the Church recognizes the right of groups to voice their opinion in the public square. However, those familiar with the Church's doctrine on the importance of marriage and the family know it is based on principles of respect and love for all of God's children. We have continually emphasized that there is no room in this discussion for hatred or mistreatment of anyone."
The protesters and supporters KSL News spoke with said they hope their peaceful demonstration eventually leads to peaceful discussions with Latter-day Saint Church leaders.
Story compiled with contributions from Carole Mikita and Jennifer Dobner of The Associated Press.