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University defends Glitter+Ash ‘queer’ Lent observance amid backlash

Fort Hays State University ‘committed to the free expression of ideas and beliefs’

Fort Hays State University leaders are defending as “free expression” a recent “Glitter+Ash” event on campus that offended Christians and Catholics for offering a twist on Ash Wednesday billed as an inclusive, pro-“queer” observance.

“Glitter+Ash is an inherently queer sign of Christian belief, blending symbols of mortality and hope, of penance and celebration,” student organizers had stated in announcing their event, held on Ash Wednesday, which marks the beginning of a holy season for Catholics leading up to Easter.

“Ashes are a statement that death and suffering are real. Glitter is a sign of our hope, which does not despair,” stated the group “Us4U,” which describes itself on Facebook as “an inclusive, faith-based, student organization focused on providing service.”

The event drew widespread condemnation on social media, including accusations that it was heretical and disrespectful. One Fort Hays Christians student called it a “personal attack,” adding the event mocked Christian beliefs, according to a screenshot from Libs of TikTok.

Riley Zeller, vice president of Fort Hays Students for Life, told The College Fix in a written statement the “sanctity of Ash Wednesday should not be twisted or mocked to fit a larger agenda.”

“Through the Catholic Church, the ashes on our head symbolize that we are sinners, but with Christ those sins are forgiven,” Zeller said. “I think it is an important time we as Christians stand up for our faith and the true meaning of being a follower of Christ. We are called to love, but more importantly we are called to share the truth of the gospel.”

Campus leaders responded Wednesday with a statement defending students’ rights to host a wide variety of gatherings while clarifying “Glitter+Ash” was not a university-sponsored nor university-endorsed event.

“In the interest of ensuring that the First Amendment right of every individual is respected, FHSU remains viewpoint-neutral on this and other Student Organization-led events,” the statement read.

“We are in the process of updating our student organization event announcement procedures to clarify that these are announcements from the Student Organizations, not the university, and the content of the emails and the events themselves may not reflect the opinions/beliefs of the university or university leadership.”

“The Kansas Board of Regents and Fort Hays State University are committed to the free expression of ideas and beliefs, and we are united in our commitment to full and open inquiry and discourse and the robust exchange of ideas and perspectives,” the statement added.

The Hays Post reported Wednesday that the event took place without a physical protest. It did not state how many took part in receiving either the rainbow-colored glitter ash or traditional ash drawn in the sign of the cross on their foreheads on Wednesday.

The Post reported the event has been held for the past five years, and that in the past it drew an average of 30 participants.

“There is a tradition of exclusion, and we don’t feel it really reflects what Jesus was about,” Cheryl Duffy, Us4U adviser, told the Post. “Jesus was about love and inclusion, and we want to open up that tradition to everyone.”

In response to the backlash, its student president told the Post: “We stand for love and supporting the community. We are not going to let that affect us or influence us or change us.”

But one pastor who dropped out of participating in the event was Troy Miller at the United Methodist Church in Hays. In an interview Thursday with The College Fix, he said he was slightly “caught off guard” by the event’s details.

“Because time was short and social media was exploding with various responses, I quickly sought to remove myself and my student organization from the crossfire of a subject that was quickly becoming volatile,” he said in a written statement.

He added that he serves in a denomination that is moving toward inclusivity and he supports that.

“However, like all local congregations, I serve a large group of people who are collectively working to lean into this together, in unity, while holding a multitude of varying opinions. We are a ‘big tent’ church that seeks to practice love, grace, and acceptance to all people,” he told The Fix. “Because we are a church of several hundred people this is a complex issue with many layers that must be handled with equal understanding for all involved.”

He cited the idiom from John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, that “The world is my parish.”

“With that same spirit I believe Fort Hays State University and the community of Hays are the parish God has called me to serve. I will do my best to make certain that nothing unnecessarily hinders that,” he said. “Because I felt that my participation in the Ash Wednesday imposition of ashes in the Memorial Union could put me in a compromising position, I respectfully withdrew.”

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About the Author
College Fix contributor Kayley Chartier is a student at Fort Hays State University she is pursuing a degree in Criminal Justice. She is a member of Students for Life, College Republicans, and the Vice President of her Turning Point USA chapter. She also writes for Campus Reform.