This queer actor was barred from speaking at a school for his “lifestyle”

Former 30 Rock actor Maulik Pancholy was scheduled to speak at an anti-bullying assembly at a Pennsylvania middle school. However, the school board unanimously voted to cancel the event, claiming that he might push his “lifestyle” on students.

On April 15, Cumberland Valley School Board member Bud Shaffner introduced the motion to disinvite Pancholy. “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,” he said, according to video footage of the board meeting reported by Today.

Board member Kelly Potteiger went on to claim that the motion was not about discrimination, even as she cited his so-called “lifestyle” in her decision. “It’s not discriminating against his lifestyle — that’s his choice,” Potteiger said. “But it’s him speaking about it.” The motion ultimately passed 8-0.

Local community members have expressed outrage at the board’s decision. Brooke Ryerson, an LGBTQ+ high school student who attended Mountain View Middle School, described the decision as its own political message. “It was going to be an assembly about empathy and anti-bullying,” Ryerson said. “But that doesn’t matter to the board. They want to silence us in any way they can.

“They’re sending that message that they don’t want our identities in the school. I’m lucky that I have such accepting friends and family, but it’s gotta be devastating for the kids who don’t and now feel even more like they’re not wanted somewhere.”

Trisha Comstock, whose child formerly attended Mountain View, started a petition which has garnered over 3,000 signatures at the time of writing. “Being LGBTQ+ isn’t a dirty little secret to protect our students from,” Comstock wrote. “To have someone with Maulik’s life experiences would have been inspirational for our students.”

Pancholy is best known for his recurring character on 30 Rock, the executive PA Jonathan. He also authored a Stonewall Award-winning novel The Best at It and is the co-founder of nonprofit Act To Change, which advocates against bullying that targets AAPI and LGBTQ+ youth.

On Thursday, Pancholy responded to the cancellation on Instagram. “When I visit schools, my ‘activism’ is to let all young people know that they’re seen,” he wrote. “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. 

“That’s the power of books. They build empathy. I wonder why a school board is so afraid of that?”

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Tags: Censorship
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