Pennsylvania Middle School Under Fire for Canceling Appearance of Gay Activist

Source: Instagram/Maulik Pancholy

A Pennsylvania middle school sent its community (and now the internet) into a frenzy with its decision to remove actor/activist Maulik Pancholy as a guest speaker at a recent anti-bullying assembly. Students and parents are fighting back – and they can use your help! Here’s what people need to know!

Who Is Maulik Pancholy? 

Maulik Pancholy is a 50-year-old actor and activist who came out as gay in November 2013. He’s married to chef/caterer Ryan Corvaia. Pancholy is best known for his role as Jonathan on 30 Rock and as the voice of Baljeet Tjinder in Phineas and Ferb

Source: Instagram/Maulik Pancholy

He has also published two books – one about a gay Indian American boy (The Best At It in 2019) and one about kids rising up against homophobia (Nikhil Out Loud in 2022) – and served on President Barack Obama’s Advisory Commission on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.

Initially Scheduled To Speak At Middle School

Pancholy was asked to speak at an anti-bullying assembly at Mountain View Middle School in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania – a community that has been riddled with bullying in recent years. Many parents and students were excited to hear what he had to say.

Source: Facebook/Mountain View Middle School

According to his website: “Maulik regularly delivers keynotes on the topic of diversity and inclusion in corporate settings and at universities across the country. He also speaks about his novels at schools nationwide.”

School Board Unanimously Overturns Decision

In a public meeting on April 15, the district’s school board conducted a vote to either allow or not allow Pancholy to speak at the event. Eight board members cast a vote, and all eight voted to overturn the decision to have him speak. 

Source: Cumberland Valley School District

Several board members have came forward with their reasoning for voting against it, and they each seem to be worried about something different – whether it be his ‘lifestyle,’ his political activism, or the fact that he might talk about one of his books. 

Bud Shaffner Cites Pancholy’s ‘Lifestyle’ 

Bud Shaffner was one of the board members who was worried that Pancholy might spread his political beliefs during the presentation. He talked about how proud Pancholy was of his ‘lifestyle’ and felt it wasn’t something ‘that should be imposed upon our students at any age.’

Source: Tara Winstead from Pexels via Canva

“Politically motivated discussions belong at home and not in the classroom,” Shaffner says – adding that he had concerns about Pancholy going off-script. “A number of board members went to his website and what stuck out to all of us is that he’s a political activist.” 

Kelly Potteiger Worried About Pancholy’s Book

Another board member, Kelly Potteiger, wasn’t worried about Pancholy’s lifestyle, but was concerned that he might talk about one of his books – more specifically, his The Best At It children’s book about a gay Indian American boy. 

Source: Instagram/Maulik Pancholy

“It’s not discriminating against his lifestyle — that’s his choice. But it’s him speaking about it,” Potteiger said in the public meeting. As we mentioned earlier, his website does say that he talks about his books during speaking events. 

District Spokesperson Defends Decision

In an interview with TODAY, Cumberland Valley School District spokesperson Tracy Panzer defended Mountain View principal Jeff Hosenfeld – who she says ‘works together with staff members to identify award-winning young adult authors to visit with students.’

Source: Comstock from Photo Images via Canva

Panzer went on to argue that Pancholy’s assembly appearance wasn’t initially a part of the board’s agenda. “One board member motioned to rescind the invitation to this year’s scheduled visit by author Maulik Pancholy,” she says. “Ultimately, the board voted not to allow the visit.”

Trisha Comstock Starts Petition To Reverse Decision

One member of the community, Trisha Comstock, created a petition on to reinstate the ‘Empathy and Anti-Bullying Assembly at Mountain View Middle School.’ The petition began on April 15 and already has more than 2,400 signatures. 

Source: AndreyPopov from Getty Images via Canva

In an interview with TODAY, she called the school board’s decision ‘homophobic’ and said they’re close to causing some real harm. She believes the decision was made ‘solely because he is openly gay’ – citing Shaffner’s comments about Pancholy being proud of his lifestyle. 

Says It Sends A Harmful Message To Students

In the description of her petition, Comstock stressed the importance of having someone like Pancholy address students at the school. She also cited a study by GLSEN that found that inclusivity in schools leads to better academic outcomes and lower rates of bullying.

Source: Africa images via Canva

“The cancellation of this assembly sends a harmful message to our students – that being different is something to be ashamed of or hidden away,” she wrote. “We must challenge this narrative by reinstating the assembly with Maulik Pancholy.”

LGBTQ Sophomore Plans To Speak Out

Brooke Ryerson is one of the many students who are speaking out against the school’s decision to not host Pancholy. The 16-year-old sophomore is a member of the LGBTQ+ community and says the school just wants ‘to silence us in any way they can.’ 

Source: inkdrop via Canva

“They’re sending that message that they don’t want our identities in the school,” Ryerson says. “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.”

Former Student Tells His Story

On April 17, Tony Conte – a former student at Mountain View – shared an open letter addressed to Bud Shaffner on Facebook. He talked about how he used to have suicidal thoughts as a closeted gay teenager at the school. 

Source: Alexander Grey from Pexels via Canva

“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,” Conte wrote.

Conte Loses A Close Friend To Bullying

Conte went on to talk about a friend he made – they met at a summer job, but they also went to school together. They shared a similar experience that involved constant teasing and taunting from other students. They also both had suicidal thoughts. 

Source: jmsilva from Getty Images Signature via Canva

While Conte was able to overcome those suicidal thoughts, his friend wasn’t. “Before we could become close, before we could confide our challenges in each other, he hung himself,” Conte wrote. 

Pancholy’s Appearance Could’ve Saved A Life

Looking back at his life, Conte can’t help but wonder if his friend would be alive today if he had someone like Pancholy to look up to – noting that an appearance from someone like him could change a teenager’s entire perspective on life. 

Source: Instagram/Maulik Pancholy

“I think that if I had heard from diverse voices like (Pancholy’s) in an auditorium setting telling me that it was okay to be different, maybe my middle and high school experience could have been different,” he continued. “A presentation of this sort could have saved a life, like the life of my friend.”

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Ryan Handson

Written by Ryan Handson

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