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PA Middle School Cancels Gay '30 Rock' Star's Anti-Bullying Speech Due To His Proud 'Lifestyle'

A Pennsylvania school board voted to cancel actor and children's author Maulik Pancholy's upcoming anti-bullying speech at a middle school after conservative parents were concerned about his 'activism' over his 'lifestyle.'

Maulik Pancholy
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A Pennsylvania school board is at the center of controversy for canceling openly gay children's book author and 30 Rock actor Maulik Pancholy's upcoming anti-bullying speech at a middle school after conservative parents expressed concerns about his "activism" over his "lifestyle."

The Cumberland Valley District school board's decision was made during an April 15 meeting, where all members unanimously agreed to rescind Pancholy's speaking engagement at Mountain View Middle School in Mechanicsburg.

Concerns were raised about Pancholy's background as an LGBTQ+ activist and the themes in his books, particularly The Best At It, which features LGBTQ+ characters and explores topics such as discrimination.

The situation garnered attention after Trisha Comstock, a parent of two children enrolled in the school district, shared a clip of the meeting to Facebook and drew attention to remarks made by board member Bud Shaffner, who said Pancholy "labels himself as an activist who is proud of his lifestyle, and I don’t think that should be imposed on our students."

Comstock, who launched a petition to reinstate Pancholy's event that has garnered nearly 7,000 signatures, wrote:

"Mt. View Middle School was scheduled to have an Author speak at an assembly in May. But… the author is gay (gasp) and tonight Bud Shaffner showed how much he cares about cisgender/heterosexual student by protecting them from this terrible threat by getting the event canceled." ...
"Absolutely shameful! This send a very clear message that LGBTQ+ students, staff, and residents are not respected or seen. Who’s running to unseat Shaffner in 2025?"

You can see her post and the video below.

The video shows that board member Kelly Potteiger, a member of Moms for Liberty, a far-right organization that alleges members of the LGBTQ+ community are "grooming" children, also spoke out against Pancholy's appearance, saying:

“Again, it’s not discriminating against his lifestyle — that’s his choice. But it’s him speaking about it."
"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 decision prompted a response from former student Tony Conte, who published an open letter to Shaffner on Facebook, recalling his own struggles as a closeted gay teen and his experiences with suicidal thoughts.

Conte said he was Shaffner's "next-door neighbor on Horsham Drive where I spent most of my formative years growing up alongside your three daughters and my two sisters."

He added:

"What you may not have known about me growing up was that I was not a very popular kid in middle and high school. Well, maybe you did know that. It wasn’t much of a secret. Even before I realized that I might be different, the other kids could sense it and they treated me differently because of it."
"Like a lot of ‘different’ kids, I was teased for reasons I didn’t understand, and I had quite a lot of difficulty building friendships and growing into the healthy mindset that it was okay to be a little different. ...
"Sometimes we don’t even know how different we are until others can point it out for us.Adolescence was sufficiently difficult that I had considered suicide from time to time."

Conte, who said he is now in his 40s, observed that at the time he "didn’t have the life experience to clearly understand what the teasing and what the ostracism was really about." He recalled he "didn’t feel a part of any group of friends or support system, and the world can be a desperately lonely place like that, even while you may be surrounded by a loving and caring family."

Conte said a presentation like the one Pancholy was slated to give would have been beneficial because in "telling me that it was okay to be different maybe my middle and high school experience could have been different." He recalled a friend who died by suicide, saying that " a presentation of this sort could have saved a life, like the life of my friend."

He also deconstructed Shaffner's logic for why Pancholy shouldn't be "imposed" on students:

"Do you mean that you don’t think students should be exposed to the life experiences that elevated someone to the national stage as a well-regarded actor and award-winning author?"
"Surely, in a school it is helpful for children to meet all types of professionals who have had some modicum of success, and hearing their stories only enriches children’s lives, doesn’t it? Or maybe you meant that you weren’t comfortable with an anti-bullying message?"
"I’m not sure why that would be the case, as your tenured service on the CV School Board surely suggests that you deeply care about the children and families you serve. Surely, you care about their safety and well-being.I can only surmise that you’d said what you said because you don’t approve of the fact that Mr. Pancholy is gay. "
"If the CEO of Apple, the CEO of Dow, the CEO of Macy’s, or the CEO of Land O’Lakes wanted to host a presentation for middle school students in the CV district about treating each other with kindness and respect, would you also cancel their presentations because all of those high performing professionals are gay and proud of the lifestyle they lead?"

Conte believes he has an "obligation to stand up for my friend who can’t speak for himself anymore because he didn’t have the support that speakers like Mr. Pancholy offer up." He said he is "writing for the students who felt so much like I did in school, different and alone and uncertain about who I could talk to or how to get support during such a difficult time."

Importantly, he said he is also speaking out on behalf of his own young children, noting that Shaffner's stance "will only hurt the children who desperately need to hear the positive message of inclusion to feel a little less alone in this world." He concluded that Shaffner and the school board should know "that the vulnerability necessary to admit when you’ve made a mistake is nothing less than courageous leadership."

You can see his post below.

In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, Shaffner denied that Pancholy's sexual orientation influenced the board's decision and instead emphasized that Pancholy's status as a "political activist" conflicted with the school's policy of banning political speeches and activism:

"That’s absolutely unfounded. That wasn’t even part of the discussion. We simply voted to uphold the [school] policy of no political speeches, no political activism.”
“We just cannot allow political speeches within our school. And he identified himself as a political activist.”

But no one was buying it.

Pancholy identifies himself as an activist working on social justice causes, including co-founding the anti-bullying campaign #ActToChange. Shaffner would not confirm whether the board would revisit its decision, saying that there's been "a lot of reaction because there's been that misunderstanding of the reason for what was done."

Cumberland Valley School District spokesperson Tracy Panzer explained that Pancholy's visit was not originally on the meeting agenda but was brought up by a board member. Shaffner himself reiterated that he has "no idea" whether Pancholy's visit will be "brought up again or not."

Comstock's petition seeking the reinstatement of Pancholy's event stresses that being LGBTQ+ "isn't a dirty little secret to protect our students from," noting that to "have someone with Maulik's life experiences would have been inspirational for our students."

As of this writing, the petition has been signed by 6,755 people who've joined the call for Cumberland Valley School Board to "reverse their decision" to "show our students that everyone deserves respect regardless of their sexual orientation or identity."