Speakers at the William Way Community Center remembered, among others, Rutgers University freshman Tyler Clementi, who jumped off the George Washington Bridge after police say his roommate secretly recorded him with another male student, then broadcast the video online.
The speakers called for measures to curb bullying in schools and for more visible leadership from public officials on the issue.
Center director Chris Bartlett called such deaths "murders" by schools that allow bullying and by societies, churches and families that do not accept gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender individuals. But he said organizations such as school gay-straight alliances have made a difference and such efforts should be expanded.
Malcolm Lazin of the Equality Forum quoted the old saying "Sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me."
"That's wrong," he said. "Names do hurt you. And when you hear these slurs day in and day out, no wonder that we are here today trying to protect the most vulnerable members of our society."
Jeanne McIntyre said she was kicked out of her Collingswood, N.J., home after coming out to her parents and tried to commit suicide herself. But a quarter-century later, she said, she saw the rainbow gay pride flag raised over a municipal building in the City of Brotherly Love.
"I just have to tell you all, it does get better," McIntyre, 46, told the crowd, echoing the slogan of a YouTube campaign on the issue. "It does get better."
Sean Maloney, 26, of Corning, N.Y., said he suffered crippling depression as a youth and remembered sitting up late nights holding a dagger to his belly, considering suicide. He said he finally told his parents that he was gay and his father initially said he couldn't stand the sight of him, but later became one of his biggest advocates.
Lazin called for more initiatives to teach the history of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people. And although a supporter of President Barack Obama, he noted that the White House has marked the celebration of months devoted to a number of ethnic groups, but not gays and lesbians.
"We need to hear from the president of the United States," he said, pounding the podium. "We need him to send a signal to this country as to the way in which we are regarded, the contributions that we make, the role models that our youth need to have.
"The president of the United States needs to hear from us," he said to loud applause.