Pennsylvania school board cancels gay actor’s speaking appearance due to his ‘lifestyle’

30 Rock’s Maulik Pancholy was set to speak at a Pennsylvania school, but was uninvited after school board members raised concerns about the openly gay actor’s “activism” and “lifestyle.” Now, Pancholy is speaking out, along with parents, students, and other school district employees.

Pancholy was set to give an anti-bullying speech at Mountain View Middle School in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania, but the school board unanimously voted to cancel it during their April 15 meeting.

“If you research this individual, he labels himself as an activist, he is proud of his lifestyle and I don’t think that should be imposed upon our students at any age,” board member Bud Shaffner said at the meeting.

Board member Kelly Potteiger raised concerns that Pancholy would talk about his book, “The Best at It,” which is about a gay middle school student.

“It’s not discriminating against his lifestyle — that’s his choice,” Potteiger said at the meeting. “But it’s him speaking about it.”

Pancholy posted a statement to his Instagram where he expressed deep sadness about growing up without representation of South Asian or LGBTQ+ people in the stories he read and watched, which inspired him to write two books for middle-school-aged children.

“When I visit schools, my ‘activism’ is to let all young people know that they’re seen. To let them know that they matter. When I talk about the characters in my books feeling ‘different,’ I’m always surprised by how many young people raise their hands — regardless of their identities and backgrounds — wanting to share about the ways in which they, too, feel different,” he wrote in his statement. “That’s the power of books. They build empathy. I wonder why a school board is so afraid of that?”

The Cumberland Valley School District’s leaders also published a public letter, expressing their own disappointment in the school board’s vote.

“While the issue of ‘political activism’ was cited, statements made publicly by individual board members identified Mr. Pancholy’s sexual identity as a factor, an identity shared by many members of our school community,” the letter, signed by Superintendent Mark Blanchard and nine other high-ranking members of the school district administration, said. “In doing so, Mr. Pancholy’s personhood was reduced to a single aspect, and his ability to communicate a message of anti-bullying and hate was discredited.”

Parents, led by Trisha Comstock, also started a petition to reinstate Pancholy’s anti-bullying assembly.

In his Instagram post, Pancholy thanked those who have stood by him.

“It’s been incredibly moving to see the outpouring of solidarity, love, and support from the community at Mountain View Middle School,” he wrote. “I hope that every single student at MVMS is receiving that message of support and love. That you know that regardless of who you are, you belong.”

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