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    Gay ’30 Rock’ actor’s anti-bullying talk canceled over ‘lifestyle,’ activism

    The 30 Rock actor and children’s book author Maulik Pancholy was set to give an anti-bullying speech at a Pennsylvania middle school, but members of the local school board voted to rescind the invitation because of his “lifestyle” and activism, a decision that sparked outrage from some parents and former students.

    During its April 15 meeting, the Cumberland Valley District school board voted unanimously to pass a motion canceling Pancholy’s event at Mountain View Middle School in Mechanicsburg. A concerned parent, Trisha Comstock, who has two children enrolled in the school district, shared a clip of the Zoom meeting, which showed members voicing their concerns about Pancholy’s speaking engagement, on Facebook.

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

    Maulik Pancholy.

    Jon Kopaloff/Getty Images


    Kelly Potteiger, a newly elected board member who is also a member of the right-wing activist group Moms for Liberty, had expressed worries that Pancholy’s discussion of his book The Best At It — which features LGBTQ+ characters and grapples with discrimination — would draw on his own experiences with “anti-bullying and empathy and inclusion.”

    “Again, it’s not discriminating against his lifestyle — that’s his choice. But it’s him speaking about it,” Potteiger said. “He did say that that’s not the topic, but that’s what his books are about…  And [because he is] a self-proclaimed activist, that’s where it gets concerning, I think.”

    The result of the vote led one former student, Tony Conte, to publish an open letter to Shaffner on Facebook, recalling his experience as a closeted gay teen and his struggles with suicidal ideation because of it.

    Comstock has started an online petition to reinstate the event, which she writes was canceled “solely because [Pancholy] is openly gay.” Thus far, the petition has more than 1,700 signatures.

    In a phone interview with Entertainment Weekly, Shaffner denied the claim that Pancholy’s sexual orientation was the reason for the vote.“That’s absolutely unfounded,” he said. “That wasn’t even part of the discussion. We simply voted to uphold the [school] policy of no political speeches, no political activism.”

    He added, “We just cannot allow political speeches within our school. And he identified himself as a political activist.”

    Maulik Pancholy on ’30 Rock’.

    Ali Goldstein/NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal via Getty Images


    On his website, Pancholy identities himself as an “activist” who works on social justice causes, citing his status as a co-founder of the anti-bullying campaign #ActToChange, which has since become a nonprofit dedicated to meet the unique needs of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) youth.

    When asked if the school board would revisit its decision to cancel Pancholy’s speech in light of the controversy, Shaffner would not confirm. “There’s been a lot of reaction because there’s been that misunderstanding of the reason for what was done, but we as a board have not had the opportunity to have a meeting or discuss it amongst ourselves,” he told EW. “I have no idea whether that will be brought up again or not.”

    Cumberland Valley School District spokesperson Tracy Panzer told EW that Pancholy’s visit was not on the meeting’s original agenda, explaining that after one board member motioned to rescind the invite, the board unanimously voted to cancel the speech.

    Outside of penning two novels for middle schoolers, The Best At It and Nikhil Out Loud, Pancholy is known for his 30 Rock role as Jonathan, a loyal and overly eager assistant to Alec Baldwin’s Jack Donaghy. The actor also voices Baljeet in Disney’s animated series Phineas and Ferb and Sanjay Patel in the Nickelodeon series Sanjay and Craig.

    Representatives for Pancholy did not immediately respond to EW’s request for comment.

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