KSTU Channel 13 reports that thousands of people showed up in response to gay activist Eric Ethington's appeal to protest LDS Apostle Boyd K. Packer's speech during the recently-concluded 180th Semiannual General Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The protest was also meant to call attention to a purported upsurge in gay suicides, which Ethington and other Utah gay activists believe are on the rise.
Crowd estimates vary. Although Ethington himself claims 4,500 showed up, an AP story published by KSL Channel 5 said that police counted only 1,000. The Deseret News is splitting the difference, saying 2,000 - 3,000. A newer KSL story is now available HERE; KSTU news video embedded below:
Ethington organized the event via Facebook, asking protestors to wear black and stand silently on the sidewalk outside the LDS Church Office Building in downtown Salt Lake City. They lay head-to-toe on the sidewalks circling the six-block area surrounding the building and Temple Square. To kick off the event, Ethington told the crowd, "We want to tell men like Boyd K. Packer that we are tired of watching our children die. There are consequences to your words. You cannot change us, we cannot change ourselves and the more you try, the more dead bodies you leave behind. Stop." Ethington then added, "Our message is very simple. It's hate speech equal LGBT suicides, you can not tell kids for their entire lives there is something wrong with them, you need to change what's impossible to change and expect them to come out to the other side health." And while Ethington acknowledged Packer's right to express his opinion, he also said the church's gay youth need to hear a message of hope as well. Of course, Ethington, like so many other gay activists, never define what they mean by "message of hope".
Ethington has now posted his own thoughts on his PrideInUtah blog, which includes several photos. As for his claim that Elder Packer's address was "hate speech", a claim which is utterly ludicrous, you can now read the full text of the speech HERE and decide for yourself. LDS apostles do not engage in "hate speech", not because they're infallible, but because it's not in their nature. Furthermore, the term "hate speech" is an Orwellian, neo-Marxist invention designed to chill free speech.
In addition, Eric Ethington has not given adequate credit to the Church for the progressive steps it's already taken to reach out to gays. He has forgotten that during a November 2009 public hearing on Salt Lake's two gay nondiscrimination ordinances, LDS Church spokesman Michael Otterson offered public testimony in support of the ordinances, preventing a protracted political "food fight" and assuring passage.
Update: The Nine Moons blog has just reported that the written transcript of Boyd K. Packer's speech differs slightly from the spoken version. The word "tendencies" was replaced by the word "temptations", and the sentence "Why would our Heavenly Father do that to anyone?” was deleted from the transcript. I was under the impression that a written transcript was supposed to be a precise rendition of the spoken version.
For its part, the LDS Church reiterated that its doctrine on marriage and family is based on respect and love. "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 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."